Friday, April 3, 2009

The Gospel of the Gospels

A useful exercise is to put ourselves as original readers of the gospel narratives and ask ourselves what message those writers were trying to convey. The reasoning is that anything that really counts as being fundamental to Christianity or should be considered part of the "gospel message" should be found clearly in each gospel narrative since the point of the narratives were to either spread the news about Christianity or clarify a sound message from a false one in the early church.

In other words, what items are clearly presented and obvious from any reading of each Gospel?

A list that comes to my mind:

i) Jesus was raised from the dead [the fundamental belief of all biblical Christianity]
ii) Jesus has authority given by God and elevated to God's right hand in power. (indeed Psalm 110 is supposed to be the most often quoted OT passage in the NT.)
iii) Jesus was sent by God
iv) Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit at His baptism [one of the very few items described explicitly in all four Gospels.]
v) The existence of Hell and importance of repentance to avoid it. (Do all the gospels describe that Jesus will be the Judge? Matthew, Luke and John do...not sure about Mark.)
vi) Jesus will return.
vii) Jesus has the power to forgive sins.

I think everyone could agree that each of these:
A. Appears and is emphasized by every gospel
B. Is made absolutely clear in every gospel without any interpretation. (or any interpretation that is needed is aided by the gospel writer, Like John 2:21.)

Are there other items that are made absolutely clear in all four gospels that any reader would come away from?


Grant said...

It seems to me you are on the right track. I have found throughout my life that most people who call themselves Christians are too quick to relegate their spiritual decisions to someone else, whether it be Priest, Pastor Rabbi, Imam,etc. and forget or do not realize that Christ warned his diciples to always verify that what was being taught was in harmony with Christs teaching. He also told them not to be called Teacher or Rabbi because only Christ was their teacher. Now remember Christ is the incarnation of God's Word. Therefore we should believe God's Word over any other man. This was the true reason for his sacrifice, to demonstrate by his resurrection,the veracity of God's original promise and fulfil his Law Covenant to the Jews making it possible for the entire world to be blessed for eternity through the Line of David without having to fight another war. Remeber David was not allowed to build the Temple to God because he was a Man of War.

Anonymous said...

A question regarding number v. on your list. I have been struggling with the question of hell for a very long time. In your studies, have you (and James maybe) come up with a definition of hell? And how that definition 'lines up' with the character of God.

Simon said...

I never really understood hell, and now that I think about it I guess God created hell as well as heaven which confuses me and contradicts what all those happy clappers would want to tell me about Jesus and salvation. It's all so confusing.

I'm writing about this, and my exploration of God on a blog at which you're welcome to visit.

Ray said...

That list is a good idea to get some coherence into the matter. It would really help if we actually had a way of knowing what Christianity is supposed to be, and let all Christians agree on it.

That said, could you explain on what basis you take the scriptures to be true? Especially concepts like Hell, virgin births etc. are pretty hard to prove. So how can you take it all at face value?

David Rudel said...

I would say that hell is best understood as "whatever happens to those who are not selected by Christ for New Jerusalem."

I've written some thoughts about the nature of hell in the book.

I think there are lots or problems with how people generally see hell. One is that hell is designed as a way for God to somehow make up for wrath that was unable to be spent on the person during the person's normal lifetime. If that is the purpose of hell, it seems to be a poor expedient.

Some claim that hell was originally created as a final place for the demons, fallen angels, etc. and that it was later simply re-appropriated to be used for unrighteous humans as well.

Another point I made in my book is that it does not seem to match God's nature for someone to be endlessly tortured. What does God gain from that? I bring up the provocative idea that there might (and I do stress might) be immigration in the next era. As long as there is hope of someone repenting, I see no gain for God by leaving such a person in torment.

The truth is that the Bible says very little about hell, but I'm not sure that we really need to know much about it.

David Rudel said...

The question as to how I take the scriptures is not a simple or easy one. I will say, however, that any Christian really has no choice (in my mind) as to accepting (at the very least) the Old Testament. Whatever your view on the New Testament is, there is no indication whatsoever that Christ [a Jew] ever claimed that the Old Testament was faulty or wrong.

So, it seems that anyone who believes Jesus knew what He was talking about has to accept (at least) that the Old Testament that Christ quoted liberally from is worth taking as written. If it was good enough for a very controversial figure like Christ to accept and teach from, we have to assume it is good enough for us.

As for the other aspects, I think we also must take (as a bare minimum) the resurrection of Christ. The entire religion folds up and blows away like a puff of smoke if we claim the resurrection was just made up. Such a claim also looks odd in the face of all the persecution and torture the early apostles withstood because they refused to say otherwise. That's pretty good evidence right there: we have decent records for most of the apostles, and nothing indicates that any of them came forward and claimed the whole resurrection thing was a hoax. Given the persecution and death they endured, that fact has to be given significant respect.

Similar remarks hold for Paul's writing. It would be rather odd for Paul (a very well-to-do Pharisee) to just randomly decide that Jesus (whose followers he was persecuting) was the risen Lord for no apparent reason...and then top that off by living a life of imprisonment and repeated physical abuse [Paul was stoned, drowned, beaten, lashed, etc. multiple times due to the ruckus he was causing.]

So, once again at the very least, we have to give Paul's letters the legitimacy commensurate with a hand-picked apostle who had a great deal of the Holy Spirit in him.

The above is just a sketch to show that one can build up a mesh of reasoning about the validity of scripture.

The Old Testament really helps because the prophets describe the work and purpose of the coming Christ in many places. Those prophets are the ones Jesus says wrote of Him.

David Rudel said...

I sent you an email message from your website. Please let me know if you didn't get it.