Monday, February 27, 2012

The Gospels

I attempted to write a column about fulfilled prophecies regarding Jesus, but was overwhelmed by the data available to research.  And there are wonderful books available by respected scholars who really know what they are talking about.  I am humbly out-classed with regards to any expertise in this area.  So I’ve chosen another topic – the 4 Gospels.  We’re moving into the New Testament and skipping back and forth between these four books as we read about the life of Jesus.  My ponderings today are about the 4 men who wrote these books as well as a bit of background information.  Here we go!


Nowhere in this book does Matthew specifically identify himself as its author, yet it is a uniformly accepted tradition that he, one of the first 12 disciples did in fact write it.  He’d been a tax collector before following Christ – at this time, tax collectors were considered one of the most sinful people – they were often quite greedy and would overcharge people and pocket the extra money themselves for personal profit.  He was a disciple of John the Baptist before following Jesus.  Mark referred to Matthew also by the name “Levi”, but when he lists the 12 together, Matthew is the name given (Mark 3:18).  Matthew’s book is directed towards the Jews, including many citations from our Old Testament.  More than the others, Matthew uses Old Testament prophecy to verify Jesus as Messiah.  Matthew wrote this sometime after the resurrection but before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD (uttered by Jesus himself in Matthew 24:2).  There is some discussion whether Matthew or Mark wrote his Gospel first, but Matthew has always been the first book in the New Testament.


As with Matthew, nowhere in Mark’s Gospel is the author confirmed.  However, the evangelist John Mark (a companion and disciple of Peter, one of the 12 original disciples) has the universally accepted as the author by all but a few scholars.  Mark accompanied both Paul and Barnabas for a bit of time on their first missionary journey.  His mother (named Mary) was apparently the owner of the “upper room” where Jesus met with the disciples prior to his arrest for the “last supper”.  Thus it is likely he may have known Jesus, though only his other associations (Peter, Paul, Barnabas among others) is confirmed.  This gospel was also written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, though exact timing is unknown.  It is traditionally believed to be directed at Roman believers, focusing on the actions of Jesus which would appeal to the action-oriented Romans.


Luke also never mentions himself by name in either this book or Acts with which he is also credited with authoring.  Again, it is universally accepted that he authored both books.  Luke was a contemporary of the apostle Paul who mentions him by name in his epistles a few times (I believe it is 3 times – once as a “beloved physician” in Colossians, and in Philemon and 2 Timothy).  Luke is believed to be the only Gentile author in the entire Bible, although there are a few who believe he may have been a Jew of the dispersion.  Luke travelled with Paul on some of his missionary journeys, and he completed his writings before Paul was executed.  The best-guess estimate of the time Luke wrote his book is around 60AD.  Luke addressed his book to a man named “Theophilus” who was evidently a man of some culture and influence, though nothing else is known of him.  This fact also provides some evidence that the book, written mostly in Greek, was written for the Greeks, stressing the perfect humanity of Jesus Christ.  Research confirms that Luke was an historian which is evident in this book.  His primary focus is to focus on Jesus’ mission to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).


John’s Gospel is quite different from the other 3.  It was written probably 30 years after the others, directed at a different audience and with a different purpose.  At the time he wrote it, John was the only one of the original apostles (including Paul, who was not one of the “12”) still living.  John’s purpose in writing was evangelistic and his message is directed at “whosoever believeth” (John 3:16).  With regards to the evangelistic purpose, the familiar words “believe”, “life”, “love”, “truth”, and “grace” abound in this book.  Again, as in the other 3 gospels, John does not identify himself as its author, but the early church believed it to be written by him and this belief continues today.  John emphasizes that Jesus is God – the creator, the judge, and the rewarder – was well as confirming his true and perfect humanity.  John’s book contains what are frequently called the seven great “I am” statements made by Jesus. 

I hope this brief information helps you in your reading, to enable better understanding of why things are often recorded differently – just as we speak differently to children versus educated adults, so each of the Gospel writers seeks to teach his readers according to who they are.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Order of Books in the Bible

Yesterday as I was doing the day’s reading, I was noting how the same story was being told in several places scattered throughout various books – Chronicles, Kings, and the prophetical books.  I’d seen this before in reading the Gospels in the New Testament, but hadn’t recognized it (aside from Chronicles and Kings) in previous readings through the Old Testament.  As an aside, I’m a structured person.  The times I’ve read the Bible through before had me start at page 1 and work my way through to Revelation.  Reading it in the chronological manner we’ve been following since June is a challenge for me in the sense that it’s not pages 1 – the end.  But, it has shown me to a greater degree the time-line and pathway leading to Jesus.  In any event, it raised the question of why the Bible is organized as it is – why not in a chronological order or something like that.  So I brought the question to Google and found these answers.
First, I learned that the Hebrew Bible isn’t organized as our Old Testament is.  Instead of 39 books, there are only 24.  However, the same information is included, just arranged differently.  Their structure is as follows:

The Law of Moses:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers
The Prophets
                The Former Prophets:  Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
                The Latter Prophets:  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, “The Twelve” (minor prophets)
The Writings
                Poetical Books:  Psalms, Proverbs, Job
                The Five Scrolls:  Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther
                The Historical Books:  Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles

Our Christian Bibles divide the Old Testament into the following structure and order:

The Pentateuch:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers
Historical Books:  Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles,
2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
Poetical Books:  Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
Prophetical Books:  Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos,
             Obadiah,Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

Our New Testament Is also grouped by subject manner.  The early church adopted the current order of the Gospels (although Matthew and Luke were sometimes interchanged).  It also arranged the order of the epistles with the Pauline ones first divided by those to churches and then those to individuals, according to length.  The other epistles follow, again in order of longest to shortest.  Finally the writings by various men concluding with Revelation. 

Historical Books:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts
Pauline Epistles:  Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians,
Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy,
Titus, Philemon
Other Writings:  Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation

I recognize that our chronological reading has us “skipping around” to read the events in chronological order.  It is also possible (not really surprising!) to order the books of the Bible in order by which they were written.  There are variations based on the scholars who have determined these timelines, but here’s one:

1440-1400BC:  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
1400-1000BC:  Joshua, Judges
1000-586BC (pre-exile thru mid-exile):  Psalms, Ruth, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, Job, Proverbs,
Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
931-686BC (Rehoboam to Hezekiah):  Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah,
686-586BC (Hezekiah to the exile):  Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, 1 Kings, 2 Kings,
                1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel
516-400BC (post-exile):  Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
40-45AD:  Matthew
45-50AD:  1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, Luke
50-55AD:  Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Acts, 1 Timothy,
2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews
55-60AD:  1 Peter, 2 Peter, Mark, James, Jude
60-68AD:  John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Revelation

In any event, hope this holds some interest for you!