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The Gospel of Jesus Christ

What the Bible Teaches:  JESUS

"Gospel" means "Good News"

"Gospel" means "Good News".  A gospel presents the Good News that Jesus Christ has made salvation available to all people, not just Jews.


"What is the gospel?"

As Paul makes clear, there is actually only one gospel:

1 Corinthians 15:1-8,11 [1] Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. [2] By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. [3] For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, [5] and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. [6] After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. [7] Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, [8] and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. [11] Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

  The Gospel According to Isaiah 700 B.C.

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Immanuel means "God with us."  It is important to remember that Israelite names were descriptive phrases. It was not unusal for a person to have several names, e.g. (1) Saul and Paul, (2) Peter, Simon and Cephas.

Isaiah 9:6-7 [NIV] [6] For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. [New American Bible: upon his shoulder dominion rests] And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. [7] Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12 is called the "suffering servant" passage.

Isaiah 52:13-15 [13] See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. [14] Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness [15] so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Isaiah 53:1-12 [1] Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? [2] He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. [3] He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. [4] Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. [5] But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. [6] We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. [7] He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. [8] By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. [9] He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. [10] Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. [11] After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. [12] Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Friend, that is the gospel, just as clear and certain as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!

Want more proof it's divinely inspired? See Bible Codes about Jesus in the 'suffering servant' passage of Isaiah 52:13-53:12


"Does the gospel need to be defended?"

Philippians 1:16 [Persons who preach Christ out of goodwill] do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.

If Paul thought the Gospel needed defending, who are we to disagree? But understand that God told us what defenses to present: (1) Eyewitness testimony of Peter, Paul, James and Jude; (2) Luke researched it; (3) fulfilled prophecy.


"Is there a penalty for distorting the gospel?"

Galatians 1:6-9 [6] I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel [7] which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. [8] But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! [9] As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Jesus voluntarily underwent a horrible, torturous, humiliating death for our sake.  He wants to be remembered and honored for His loving sacrifice, and justly so.  Hence, through Paul He has warned that He will not ignore those who teach a different gospel, such as salvation by good works or that we can become gods ourselves (e.g., Mormonism), and He will punish those who distort the truth.


"Why are there four Gospels?"

Actually, there are at least six Gospels which have been accepted by Christianity as divinely inspired:  Isaiah Chap. 9, 53, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 11, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Actually, there are two answers as to why there are four Gospel books.  They aren't offered as competing answers, they are both correct.  They answer the question from different perspectives.

Each of the Four Gospels portrays a different aspect of Jesus:

Matthew The prophesied Messiah of the Jews

Matthew was written for a Jewish audience.  It's primary purpose is to prove that Jesus is the promised Messiah by showing how He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.

Mark Human Jesus, Obedient Servant

Jesus was not simply God with the appearance of a human.  Jesus actually was fully human.  When He became human He left His divine powers in heaven and came to live among men as a man.  (He was able to perform miracles because He was filled with the Holy Spirit.) It is often taught that Mark portrays Jesus as an obedient servant, even obedient unto death.

Luke Savior of all mankind

Luke was written for a Gentile audience.  They were not familiar with Hebrew prophecies about the Messiah nor did they care about them.  One of his major themes is that Jesus came for all mankind.

John God Incarnate

John, the last Gospel, was written around 96 A.D.  It's primary purpose is to show the deity of Christ.


Thus, we see two major thematic contrasts, involving Jesus' nature and His purpose.

Mark shows Jesus the human being and John shows Him as Son of God.

Jesus' Nature

Author

Aspect of Jesus

Mark

Human Jesus

John

God Incarnate

 
Matthew shows Jesus as Savior of the Jews and Luke shows Him as Savior of all men.

Jesus' Purpose

Author

Aspect of Jesus

Matthew

Jesus Savior of the Jews

Luke

Jesus Savior of all Mankind


It is important to understand that these are not contradictions they are merely different aspects, different perspectives.  Consider an analogy: one person writes a magazine article about Smith's accomplishments as a businessman and another writes about Smith's accomplishments as an author.


Each of the four Gospels had a different target audience.

Matthew Jews

Matthew was written for Jews.  It's primary purpose is to prove that Jesus is the promised Messiah by showing how He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.

Mark Gentile Romans

Mark was written to Romans, who were Gentiles. He explains Jewish words and customs. The Romans were people of action, not contemplation. Mark is the shortest Gospel. It emphasizes what Jesus did rather than what He said. It repeatedly talks about immediately, a word that emphasizes action and results. It does not have the long discourses -- The Sermon on the Mount of Matthew Chapters 5-7 and the Sermon on the Plain of Luke 6:20-49.

Luke Gentile Greeks

Luke wrote for a Greek Gentile audience.  He included almost all of Mark's text. Luke is referred to as a physician by Paul in Colossians 4:14.  Luke's Greek is flowing and eloquent and shows evidence of a strong education. His writing evidences the meticulous attention to detail one would expect of a physician interested in proving that indeed he had "done his homework":

Luke 3:1-2 [1] In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene [2] during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.

From God's perspective Luke serves two purposes: (a) The Greeks were philosophers, well-educated and knowledgeable in a wide variety of world views. Luke presents the intellectual and philosophical basis of the Christian philosophy and world view. (b) By detailed investigation and reporting, Luke establishes the historicity, i.e., the historical accuracy, of the events reported in the Gospels and some of Paul's writings.

John Those facing false teachings.

John, the last Gospel, was written around 96 A.D.  It's primary purpose was to combat heresies that had developed in the 60+ years since Christ's ascension, particularly those that denied the divinity of Christ. Gnosticism was teaching that Jesus was God in the appearance of a man and that the way to salvation was knowledge and understanding about God, not faith. Adoptionism taught that Jesus was only a human who was adopted by God and elevated because of His obedience, not the second person of the Godhead, eternally co-existent with the Father.


"Which Gospel was written first and which last?"

Isaiah was written about 700 B.C., 1 Corinthians was written before 68 A.D. and before the "four" gospels. Scholars generally agree that Mark was written first, around 66 A.D., then Matthew, then Luke, and finally John around 96 A.D.


"Why was there such a delay in the writing of the Four Gospels?"

There wasn't much of a delay in writing down the main contents of the Gospels.

This point is a bit confusing.  The Gospels are actually compilations of short anecdotes, called pericopes. ("puh-rick-oh-peez")  For instance, the guy down the street might have a note he wrote down when Jesus came through town and healed a blind man and a leper.  The blacksmith might have a letter from his cousin in Jerusalem and the letter has a paragraph about Jesus casting out a demon.  The tentmaker may have heard Peter preach a sermon telling how Peter and Jesus walked on the water and the tentmaker wrote it down.  The pericopes were not written down thirty to sixty years after the fact.  They were written down much closer to the events described. Hence, although the final form of the Gospels was written down thirty-six to sixty-six years after the events, the main content was written much earlier.  Luke begins his Gospel saying Luke 1:1 "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, ...."


Jesus was expected to return in a short time.

This was the primary reason the biblical Gospels were not written almost immediately.  It is clear from the Epistles that Christians expected Christ to return in just a few years.  If your friend has all sorts of wise sayings you want to remember and he goes out of town on a temporary job for six months, do you start writing everything down?

1 Thessalonians was the very first New Testament book written and it was written around 54 A.D.  Chapter 4 was written specifically because Christians were worried about what would happen to other Christians who died before Jesus' return would they "sleep" forever?  Were they lost?  (James may have been written before 1 Thessalonians, shortly before 50 A.D.)


The Roman Empire was a non-literary society.

Until Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press, books, scrolls, etc. were rare and expensive.  It just wasn't common for people to read and put things in written form.  Understand that there is a difference between non-literary and illiterate.  Archaeologists have found that literacy was much more common in ancient times than was previously thought.  But consider our own society we leave voice mail, answering machine or pager messages, or use Post-Its, or we call cell phones.  How often does the average person write a long document explaining something in detail?


Personal teaching was considered preferable.

One problem with written materials is that you only have whatever the author wrote down.  If you have additional questions or don't fully understand, you're stuck.  The attitude of many was, "I would prefer to learn from a disciple of Jesus or a disciple of a disciple than from a scroll."


The Four Gospels first started being written when the witnesses started dying off.

As long as there were many people who knew Jesus or knew someone who knew Jesus and people believed Jesus would return soon, there wasn't a big concern about writing an organized presentation.  But as time went on, more and more of the original participants were dying off, and Christians realized that if they didn't write down what the participants were teaching the teachings would become distorted and unreliable.


"Why don't the four Gospels agree with each other?"

To answer this, we must first understand what a gospel is not.

A gospel is NOT a: 

  • biography
  • documentary
  • news report
  • itinerary
  • daily journal
  • diary
  • historical report
  • chronological account


"What is a gospel?"

A gospel is a unique literary genre.  A genre is a "type", a "class", a "variety."  Examples of literary genres in English are:

  • Novel
  • Short story
  • Essay
  • Newspaper article
  • Epic poetry
  • Lyric poetry
  • Play
  • Limerick

 
Here are some literary genres that are not normally used in English: 

Novelle (pronounced no-VELL-uh)

A fictional story about 30-50 pages in length too long to be published as a short story and too short to be published as a novel.  Novelles are common in various European languages, e.g., German.  Some good examples are Franz Kafka's In the Penal Colony and The Metamorphosis. (What we call a "novel" is called a "Roman" in German, pronounced "ro-MAHN".)

Haiku (pronounced hi-KU)

A form of Japanese poetry that is very short and has a very rigid structure.

Lamentation

A Hebrew genre consisting of prophetic poetry lamenting some future destruction or punishment.  See Ezekiel and Lamentations in the Old Testament for examples.

Apocalypse

A Middle Eastern genre whose subject is the end times.  Examples are Revelation and Daniel and possibly Joel, Zephaniah, and Zechariah.  Apocalyptic literature is not merely prophecy.  It always deals with the end times and God's judgment, portrays events in a grandiose fashion and has a great amount of symbolism, e.g. Revelation's Whore of Babylon, Red Dragon, and Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Revelation is the most famous example of apocalyptic literature and, indeed, is called The Apocalypse by the Roman Catholic Church.

Revelation 20:1-3 [1] And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. [2] He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. [3] He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

It is important to realize that an apocalypse is a type of literature.  For instance, there is an Apocalypse of Peter, which is not part of the Bible and many ancient Middle-Eastern writers wrote apocalyptic literature.

Gospel

"Gospel" means "Good News".  These books present the Good News that Jesus Christ has made salvation available to all people, not just Jews.  There were many gospels written about Jesus, such as the Gospel of Peter, and the Gospel of Barnabas.  Most were not included in the New Testament because they were not considered divinely inspired.  In some cases gospels were not included in the New Testament because they contained no information not found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

"If the Four Gospels don't agree with each other completely, doesn't that prove the Bible (or the New Testament) isn't true?"

A watch that gains one second per day is only accurate about once every 118 years.  A watch that is stopped is accurate twice a day.  Which would you prefer to use?

Each of the Four Gospels was written for a particular audience and to emphasize particular theological points.  It is generally agreed that Mark was the first Gospel written and that either (a) both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source or (b) Mark, Matthew and Luke all used a common set of source materials, with Matthew and Luke using additional materials.  The three are so similar that they are referred to collectively as the Synoptic Gospels, "synoptic" meaning "same eye", or same viewpoint.

Despite the fact that Matthew and Luke probably had direct access to copies of Mark, there still are some discrepancies.  This indicates that the various authors intentionally arranged things in different orders to suit their particular themes.  As indicated above, a gospel is not intended as a historical report.  The question is not "Do the gospels differ in any way?"  The question is "Do the gospels contradict each other in any significant way either theologically or in describing events?"  The answer to that question is "NO!"
 

"I'm a Christian.  The Bible has no contradictions whatsoever.  I know that by faith."

I suggest you examine the facts.  Biblical scholars agree that there are numerous inconsequential contradictions in the sequence of events among the four Gospels, as well as some other minor discrepancies:

EXAMPLES  OF  KNOWN  GOSPEL  DISCREPANCIES
Where did Jesus go after being baptized?

Matthew 4:1, Mark 1:12, and Luke 4:1: Jesus gets baptized and then ":immediately" the (Holy) Spirit sends Him into the desert, where He stays for forty days.
 
John 1:35-47: Jesus gets baptized, and the next day He is back in the same area and meets three disciples.  The day after that He meets two more disciples.  The third day after getting baptized Jesus and his five disciples go to the wedding at Cana, where He performs His first miracle, turning water into wine.

Which disciple did Jesus pick first, second, etc.?
When did He pick them?

Mark 1:16-20: About forty days after being baptized Jesus meets some disciples.  Jesus' first two disciples are Simon and Andrew, then James and John  He meets them on the same day, a few minutes apart.
 
John 1:35-47
: The day after Jesus gets baptized, Andrew and an unnamed person, both disciples of John the Baptist, follow Jesus.  Then Andrew calls his brother, Simon Peter (also called Cephas).  The next day Jesus calls Philip.  Philip finds Nathaniel.
 
Matthew 4:18-22, Luke 5:1-11
: After spending forty days in the desert and some time after starting his public ministry, Jesus calls Simon Peter and James and John as disciples, all within a few minutes of each other.

Did Jesus start His public ministry before or after He picked the first disciples?

Matthew 4:12-22, Luke 4:33-44, 5:1-11: Jesus spends forty days in the desert, then starts his public ministry. Some time later he calls Simon Peter, James and John as his first disciples.
 
Mark 1:16-20: About forty days after being baptized Jesus meets four disciples on one day: Simon and Andrew, then James and John.  Then He starts His public ministry.
 
John 1:35-47, 2:13: Within two days after Jesus gets baptized He has five disciples: Andrew and an unnamed person, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathaniel.  A few days later He begins His public ministry.

When did Jesus clear the temple?

John 2:13-16:  Jesus clears the temple merchants at the beginning of His public ministry.
 
Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, Luke 19:45-46
:  The last week of His public ministry Jesus clears the temple.

 
"If there are contradictions, how can I know that any of the Bible is true?"

Also see Principles of Textual Interpretation

Many people become confused when they find out there are contradictions despite what they were told by parents or preachers.  If you study the Bible prayerfully it's easy to overcome this confusion.  You will see that the Bible is unique.

It is important to understand that you can't really understand the Bible just by reading the Bible. If that were true, preachers would never give sermons and Bible-study groups would never discuss passages they would just read the Bible aloud to the congregation or the group.  The Holy Spirit gives people insight into particular passages.  People who get such insight often write articles or books about particular topics.  How are you ever going to get to share that God-given insight if you only read the Bible itself?   Get a good Study Bible, i.e., a Bible with extensive footnotes, outlines, and comments.  Also consider getting a study guide.
 

The Bible is unique in the depth and variety of its message.

The Bible, including the Gospels, is the only book where a group of 15 people can all read the same passage and each get a different valid message from it.  (If you don't believe this, try discussing the parable of the Prodigal Son or Moses' first meeting with God in Chapter 3 of Exodus sometime, after having several people read it to themselves.  Don't ask "What is the main point of this passage?" ask "What important point do you see that can apply to your life?")
 

There are no theological contradictions in the Bible.

The chronological contradictions among the Four Gospels have been known to Bible scholars for centuries.  The most important thing to understand is that there are no theological contradictions.
 

The Bible was signed by the Holy Spirit each and every letter!

See ELS Bible Codes God's Signature
 

(THE  REST  OF  THIS  ANSWER  DEALS  SPECIFICALLY  WITH  THE  GOSPELS)

The authors of the Four Gospels didn't care about chronology.

The authors were not concerned with getting the sequence of events entirely accurate, since they never intended to write chronological accounts!

The Four Gospels were actually constructed mainly of pericopes.  A pericope is a short anecdote. Each of the Four Gospels is mainly a "string of pearls."  The author collected a number of anecdotes, sorted them by concept (baptism, miracles, teachings about heaven, the Passion (Crucifixion)), and arranged them in a sequence that is a mixture of chronological and topical.  In other words, parts of each Gospel are chronological and parts are by subject.

This is the same format used throughout the Bible historical parts are put in chronological sequence, but other parts, such as the Minor Prophets (Zechariah, Zephaniah, Joel, Amos, etc.) are grouped together.  Contrary to common belief, Paul's epistles were written before the Four Gospels (except possibly Mark), not after.  In the accepted biblical order, Paul's epistles are basically ordered by length, not topic or chronology.
 

We must view the works through the authors' eyes.

A common mistake in interpreting any literature is to try to understand the work by viewing it through the reader's cultural values.  If we viewed the Bible by modern American values, we would have to say "The Old Testament is about a bunch of guys who were bigamists and had mistresses.  This is totally immoral literature."

To determine the validity of the gospel messages we must put ourselves in the authors' position:

If you wanted to write a book telling the world there is a God, that God became a man in order to save mankind, that death is simply a transformation and that God will judge each man after death, and you were poor, traveling around, risking persecution to death and had only fragmentary information to work with, would you mainly be interested in the theology or the chronology?
 

We must examine the works with the authors' purposes in view.

Let's say you go to a McDonalds with a friend for lunch.  He says "How much money do you have on you?"  You respond "Twenty dollars."  Does it really matter that you have twenty-one dollars and sixteen cents?  The purpose of his question is to get an idea whether you have enough for lunch, and your approximate answer is fine.

The purpose of the gospels was to explain about the Messiah to people who were mainly illiterate Those people really didn't care about minutia such as the exact sequence of events.
 

We must consider what source materials were available to the authors.

Luke is the only author who says Luke 1:3 "I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning ...." Remember: the Four Gospels were not written until about 66 A.D. to 96 A.D., i.e., the earliest of the Four Gospels was written about thirty-six years after Jesus' death.  (Due to errors in how calendars used to be calculated, Jesus was actually born around 4 B.C. and crucified around 30 A.D.)  At that point, think of what would be needed to write a chronology of events.

Imagine being an American writer in Tennessee around 1870 trying to put together a magazine article about a murder by several prominent families that had occurred in 1820 and had largely been "hushed up."  You could probably find a few people who had some recollections about it, and maybe several people would have some diary entries or notes.  But the chances are nobody would have a completely accurate chronology of the events.  Also, because of persecution by the families, you would not be able to travel freely and ask questions freely.
 

If all the Four Gospels agreed on all details, none of them could be considered trustworthy.

Consider the information available to the writers of the Four Gospels and the persecution that existed when they were writing.  If the Four Gospels did completely agree it would make all of them highly suspect!  It would be impossible to have four accounts completely agree without massive collusion.  If there were massive collusion, it would be difficult to accept any account as true if news of the Messiah was considered so important, why would four separate authors take the considerable time, effort and expense to obtain and review each other's works and make sure their accounts matched exactly?
 

All the Gospels were written to tell man the Good News about salvation, not to be dissected.

The Gospels were written to let the world know the Good News that Jesus Christ, God, took on a flesh body, died for our sins, and made salvation available to all mankind.  Jesus specifically criticized the Pharisees who dissected the Old Testament scriptures, complaining that they had gotten so involved in the details that they had completely lost sight of the message.


And I can't think of a better point to end this discussion!


What the Bible Teaches:  JESUS
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(c) 1998 by Rick Reinckens

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