The Gospels - Four biographical accounts about Jesus


Video content:

Purpose: To point out the unique nature of the Gospels and the unique hermeneutics necessary to interpret them. 

Objectives: To discuss the need for the four Gospels, their Historical and Literary features and show the value of the Gospels individually. 

Welcome back to the course “Understanding Your Bible”. Today we’re going to be focusing on the Gospels and some of the features that will help you understand the Gospels because they are one STORY with many dimensions. The Gospels are a unique set of literary writing and do not have a lot of real examples to compare them to. There are some hermeneutical difficulties as well, but the major difficulty lies with understanding “The Kingdom of God,” a term that’s absolutely critical to the whole of Jesus ministry. Of course, this was presented to its original audience in a first century context.

The Gospels are not like the narratives of the Old Testament or the book of Acts because we have both the narrative of Jesus life and large blocks of his sayings or teachings as part of that life. However, the sayings were not written by Jesus like the Epistles were by Paul. Jesus native tongue was Aramaic: his teaching comes to us only in Greek. Many of the sayings of Jesus occur in 2 or 3 of the Gospels but it is seldom found in exactly the same way with the same wording.

The Kingdom of God. One of the confusing things for students of the Gospels is the idea of the Kingdom of God. Not so much what that is but when is it. Jesus made many statements about the Kingdom. Jesus made so many statements about the Kingdom that it is seen as the central message of Jesus ministry. The Kingdom of God is already at hand and yet it is to come. Oscar Cullmann describes it as being similar to W.W.II and the period between D-Day (the invasion of Normandy) and V-day (the end of the war). We know the battle is won but the full victory is not yet here. Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as already here and fulfilled in one sense and yet it will be fulfilled fully at the Second Coming. Use the following diagram to illustrate this principle. (Diagram comes from Robert Stein, Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings. Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. 1994 pg. 166)

Other reasons for miracles:

1.      Kingdom signs: Jesus demonstrates the in-breaking power of God’s reign

a)      Exorcisms proclaim the end of the reign of Satan

b)     Feeding of the 4000 and 5000 demonstrates the eschatological banquet in the new age.

c)      Sea calming and sea walking demonstrates Jesus’ dominance over the sea and His authority over chaos.

d)     Water into wine demonstrates the new age flowing with wine.

e)      Jesus healing the paralytic shows that in the new age both our sins and our bodies will be “healed/forgiven.”

2.      Evangelism: Jesus’ miracles attracted crowds, praise from onlookers, and people who affirmed that he was the Christ (“truly you are the Son of God”--Matt. 14:33)

3.      Jesus’ divinity violates Jewish customs especially in Mark: all things unclean are made clean through Jesus’ reign.

a)      Healing of the leper makes the leper clean

b)     Healing of unclean woman and dead girl makes them clean.

c)      Mark 7 shows various ways in which Jesus abolishes OT ceremonial cleansing (unclean hands, unclean food, unclean people, unclean fluids)

4.      Miracles are parables:

a)      Healing of royal official’s son--Gentiles welcome Jesus

b)     Feeding of 5000--Jesus fulfills the Passover feast

c)      The blind see and the sighted become blind--rejects Judaism

d)     The raising of Lazarus--points to Jesus’ resurrection

e)      The miraculous catch of fish--converts will be caught into churches

f)       Withering of the fig tree--end of Judaism

5.      Jesus’ miracles increase faith in the witness: Jesus often performs miracles only in response to the witnesses’ faith, witnesses increase their faith after they see Jesus’ miracles, and Jesus speaks of faith before or after he performs miracles.

6.      Jesus’ miracles call those witnesses to discipleship, particularly in the cases of healing:

a)      Matt. 8:  Healing of leper, Peter’s mother-in-law causes Jesus to ask them to follow him.

b)     Matt. 8: Stilling the to faith in the church age

c)      Matthew 9: Jairus’ dead to work in the coming harvest.

We need to understand that the Gospels were written for the needs of its readers. Mark was written first (to a group of persecuted believers in Rome) and then Matthew (to a Jewish audience) and Luke (to a Greek audience highlighting the work of the Spirit) were rewritten for different reasons. Matthew and Luke also used a collection of the saying of Jesus that had been gathered by the early church. This collection of sayings of Jesus is usually called “Q” which is a German abbreviation for source. Independently of these three, John was written for a different audience from the perspective of 60 years after Jesus death and resurrection.  

Small-group content:

Purpose: To point out the unique nature of the Gospels and the unique hermeneutics necessary to interpret them. 

Objectives: To discuss the need for the four Gospels, their Historical and Literary features and show the value of the Gospels individually. 

 The Literary & Historical context In order to understand the Gospels and interpret them we need to think horizontally and think vertically. Have three people in the group open their Bibles and have each read one verse from the text they are assigned. Matt 22:23, Mark 12:18, Lk. 20:27.

1.      What we have just done is to think horizontally, to look at the passage and the parallels in the other Gospels. What could we do in order to understand the context for why each passage was used in a different way?

2.      To think Vertically we need to be aware of the historical contexts of Jesus and that of the evangelist. How does Jesus use the passage and why does the evangelist use it in the broader scope of the whole book. Have the group look up the following passages: Matt 22:1-14 & Luke 14:15-24. Ask the group to summarize the parable. Once they have done this have them look at the reasons Jesus told the parable and then point out the differences in the two parables. Ask this question: Why would He tell the same parable differently? Think vertically.  

Why are there 4 Gospels? Speculate with the group the reasons that they have heard for having four gospels… Ask what they think is the reason. 

Have the participants of your group turn to the study Bible notes at the beginning of each of the Gospels and find out:

1.      Who are the recipients of the letter?

2.      What are some unique characteristics of each letter?

In the discussion bring out the following:

  • None of the Gospels is more important than the other.
  • They represent various viewpoints, based on the reason that each author wrote the Gospel.
  • They were written for a specific audience and therefore the material included was chosen for that purpose. 
  • They are not books by Jesus but books about Jesus. 

The Kingdom of God

Assign Scripture passages to members of your group that are in this next section. Then narrate this journey of understanding the kingdom of God and allow each person to read the Scripture as indicated.

Jesus told us that the kingdom of God was at hand. Have someone read Mark 1:14-15; Luke 17:20-21.

He drove out demons, worked miracles, and freely accepted the outcasts and sinners - all signs that the end had begun. Have someone read Luke 11: 20, Matthew 11:2-6; Luke 14:12; 15:1-2. And then he was crucified. He told us that the kingdom of God was at hand and with his crucifixion, it seemed like the lights went out. But no! There was a glorious sequel. On the 3rd day, he was raised from the dead, and he appeared to many of his followers. There is obviously some confusion about when this new kingdom was going to be ushered in. Have someone read Acts 1:6

Here is the problem that was for the early church and for us. Jesus announced the coming kingdom as having arrived with his own coming. The spirits coming in fullness and power with signs and wonders and the coming of the new covenant were signs that the new age had arrived. Yet the end of this age apparently had not yet taken place. Have someone read Acts 3:17-21.

The early believers learned that they were living between the beginning of the end and the consummation of the end. We see evidence of this in the celebration of the Lord’s supper with the phrase “the Lord’s death until he comes”. Have someone read one Corinthians 11:26. They already knew God’s free and full forgiveness, but they had not yet been perfected. Have someone read Philippians 3:10-14.

Already they lived in the Spirit, yet they still lived in the world where Satan could attack. Have someone read Ephesians 6: 11-13.

Those early Christians were conditioned to think about the future that was yet to be consummated. They knew its benefits and lived in light of its values, but they, as we, still had to live out those benefits and values in the present world. This is the essential theological framework for understanding the Gospels.

It is because the kingdom of God has begun with the coming of Jesus Christ that we are called to life in the kingdom, which means life under his Lordship, freely accepted and forgiven but committed to the ethics of the new age and to seeing them worked out in our own lives and world in this present age.[1]

Review the image “Already, Not yet”

[1] Fee and Stuart. "How to read the Bible for All it's Worth" chapter 7, page 146-48. 2003 Zondervan press


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