Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Four Gospels


Mark is the oldest of the canonical Gospels (those included in the "official" Bible). It goes back, some say, all the way to 80 or 70 CE. Parts of the Gospel of Thomas, not in our modern Bible, go all the way back to about 50, and so, it might be even older, more closely reflecting the teachings of the actual Jesus Christ.

Matthew was written specifically for an audience of mostly Hebrew people, and so, its author (who was not Matthew), or, more probably, authors, highlighted the Jewish texts and tried to fit them into the life of Jesus as "fulfilled prophecies."

Luke was written for a more sophisticated and cosmopolitan audience, and so, does not have all the Scriptural "hedging" and continuous referencing of Matthew. It was written for a Greek audience, of mostly more educated and less Biblical readers.

Finally, the latest official Gospel, John, is traced to about 100. It was written for mystically inclined Christians-- the gnostics-- and emphasizes the spiritual nature of Jesus as a model for followers. It tells of his preincarnational life as the Logos, or "Word," the reasoning Power of God, and emphasizes his oneness with God. (Compare 10:30).

The Gospel-writers were not exacting regarding matters of history. In their writings, it is probable that they mixed symbolic material with literal descriptions. So, the Gospels might be part allegory and part history. (Our modern idea of "historical accuracy" did not then exist.)

The four recognized Gospels are thought to be derived from a more ancient collection of Jesus' teachings and sayings called the "Q" Document. It was similar, in style and age, to the Gospel of Thomas, and was regarded as a very reliable reflection of the original teachings of Jesus.

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