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Tag Archives: Bible

Why Four Gospels?

The question is often asked, why does the Bible include four different Gospels? Forming the first books of the New Testament; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all tell the story of the life and ministry of Jesus, with many similar details and more than a few differences. The first three are often referred to as the Synoptic Gospels (literally meaning to see together) because of the abundance of parallel details recorded in each one. Some scholars have even become convinced that the first three evangelists must have all copied copiously from an as-yet-undiscovered common source which they have labeled “Q.” The Gospel According to John, agreed almost universally to be the last one to be written, diverges in so many instances from the Synoptics and contains so many unique characteristics that, apparently, either the aged apostle did not know about this “Q” document or he chose not to use it.

In my opinion, I do not believe that similarities in detail and structure of narrative necessitate a common source but rather reflect the recounting of events that were well known and established within the minds of the Gospel writers. Matthew was an eyewitness to most of the account he records (which is why it has always puzzled me that some scholars would think that he needed to read somebody else’s book to know what happened!) while Luke and Mark were both traveling companions of the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), who was in close contact with many eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus, with tradition maintaining that Mark was not only present during much of Jesus’ ministry, but was also a protege of the Apostle Peter after the Resurrection. Why would Mark need to consult some now lost, anonymous record of the Lord’s ministry when he doubtlessly had many times heard the reports of Simon Peter himself in rich and vivid detail?

The reason that we have four accounts of the Gospel which are often parallel but at times variant is that they are telling the same story from four different perspectives. The focus of each Gospel is slightly different, the original audience for each one is different, and even the purpose of each account is a little different. The metaphor has been given that one Gospel record would provide us with a beautiful portrait of Jesus Christ, like a two-dimensional painting, filled with color and texture. But when we take all the Gospel accounts together, we have something more like a three-dimensional sculpture showing us a much deeper image bursting to life with vividness.

Matthew, Writer to the Jew

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

As far as chronological order goes, the Gospel came first to the Jews before the Gentiles. It is fitting that the first Gospel to appear in the New Testament would be addressed to a primarily Jewish audience. Matthew’s Gospel bridges the New Testament to the Old as he establishes that Jesus is the long-awaited, promised Jewish Messiah. Matthew is quick to point out that the events he writes about happened to “fulfill what was spoken by the Lord” (e.g., Matt. 1:22). Fulfilled prophecy is a non-negotiable credential of the Messiah and any Gospel to be believed by the Jewish mind must contain it. Matthew opens his book with a genealogy linking Jesus back to Abraham, establishing His identity as a Jew. He also links the Lord to King David, establishing the Lord’s earthly right to reign as King of Israel as a Descendant of the king. Many scholars believe that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel account in Hebrew (as I believe also) because it was a Jewish audience he was primarily addressing.

Mark, Writer to the Romans

If the Jew was rooted in the past as one interested in tradition, the Roman was a man of the present. Stretching across most of the known world, the Empire of Rome ruled today, in the now. Carpe Diem was the philosophy and a strong focus on the present was the mindset of Rome’s citizens. Scattered throughout Mark’s Gospel are words like immediately which denote the fast-pace with which he is unfolding his message. This is the Gospel of action and is consequently the shortest of the four. Additionally, Mark focuses less on Jewish religious politics and makes sure to explain the Hebrew customs that he does mention. No genealogies are given because the Roman audience would not be interested in such details.

Luke, Writer to the Greeks 

“It seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;” (Luke 1:3)

Although Luke specifically addresses his Gospel (as well as the Book of Acts) to what seems to be one person, he clearly had a Greek-minded audience in mind when he wrote it. While the other Gospels often followed themes rather than a chronological order (Matthew would record miracles close together even when they may have taken place at very different times), Luke’s Gospel is more systematic, reflecting the observational skills of a physician and scholar. Luke presents Jesus Christ as the “Son of Man”, belonging not only to Israel but to anyone, Jew or Gentile, who would come to faith in Him. This is the Gospel which gives us insights, few as they may be, into the childhood of the Lord and focuses more on those on the fringe of Jewish society than the other Evangelists.

John, Writer to the Believer

Though the Apostle John explicitly states his purpose for writing his Gospel in John 20:31, that is, so that the reader might believe in Jesus Christ and have eternal life in His name, this last Gospel written seems aimed at giving a more in-depth revelation of exactly who Jesus is. John reveals Jesus as not only the “Son of God”, but as God the Son. John’s is a more spiritual Gospel that goes into areas that the other writers did not divulge in their accounts. By the time the fourth Gospel is set down on paper, Christianity had been around some sixty years or so and had already suffered heretical attacks from many sides. Whether it was the sophistry of the Greeks or the twisted reasoning of the Gnostics, John’s Gospel serves almost as an apologetic refutation of errors that had already begun to invade the infant Church. It is fitting that “the Disciple whom Jesus loved” would be the final voice to vindicate His Master’s Words at the close of the First Century, leaving a foundation of Gospel Truth upon which the Body of Christ could rest firmly before the curtain closed on the Age of the Apostles.

Four Perspectives on One Gospel

Thus the Gospel, though told from four different perspectives, is really one Gospel. It is the “Good News” not only for Israel but for the entire world. Jews and Gentiles, Romans and barbarians, slaves and free people, and men and women all could come to Jesus Christ for Salvation. None would be excluded on any basis other than their own decision to reject the only One sent by God the Father to save sinners. And regardless of a person’s background, there is a Gospel written that speaks directly to them. The sign which Pontius Pilate placed on Jesus’ Cross was written in three languages, to address the three main types of people present at the Crucifixion (John 19:20). This is reflected in the original target audience of each of the first three Gospels: Hebrew (Matthew), Latin (Mark), and Greek (Luke).

” Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission

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God Meant It Unto Good

“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)

If a person completely unfamiliar with the Book of Genesis sat down and read the first two chapters, then skipped ahead and read the final two, they would likely have the overwhelming feeling that something had gone horribly wrong in between the two sections. Perhaps unable to put their finger directly on it, they would sense that something catastrophic had occurred in between. Genesis 1 opens with God moving upon a barren planet, filling it with life and light. Genesis 50 ends with the burial of Joseph. Genesis begins with the birth of everything and ends with the burial of the final personage covered in the narrative. In short, Genesis begins with life and ends with death.

Even the most hardened atheist must concede that there seems to be something very unnatural and even unfair about the cruel, nearly mechanical cycle of life and death. All living things die eventually, but why is this so? Why is it that the human body, so resilient, so able to reproduce and revive its own cells, finally ceases all of these processes and ultimately surrenders to the cold grasp of death? How is it that everything which God created and called “good” has become otherwise?

Man has within his heart an instinct for survival, a desire to live, and an expectation of immortality. We know within our own hearts that we ought not to die, that this is not the way things were intended to be. And in reflecting on the Book of Genesis, we see that God never intended for it to be like this. Yet sin entered in; and with it, death (Rom. 5:12). This is what went horribly wrong in those chapters between the Second and Forty-ninth of Genesis: sin. We tend to blame all of our woes on external forces, but they originated within ourselves. Man has defied the Law of God and has brought death upon himself as a result.

Yet another theme is woven into the pages of Genesis, a theme that would be overlooked by the person skipping over all of those intermediate chapters. Redemption. What man has defiled, God desires to cleanse; what man has broken, God desires to fix; and what man has lost, God desires to restore. In other words: what man has thought for evil, God has meant for good. Even the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden, which led to the death, both spiritual and physical, of every person who would ever live can be overcome by what God has done through Jesus Christ on man’s behalf. Evil intent darkened the hearts of Adam and Eve in that Original Sin, yet God brought something good in the Redemption made available by the Blood of Christ, the Redemption offered to all men whereby they might be saved.

And so it is with the wickedness of Joseph’s brothers when they sold him into slavery. What they intended for evil, God meant for good. For this single sinful act of the brothers would set into motion all of the events that would one day bring them alive into Egypt. Though by no means alleviating their responsibility for their actions, God would bring something beautiful from the ugliness that the brothers had done. Even so, we know that the brothers of Joseph repented of the wicked deed they had done and did what they could to make things right. Fearing retribution from Joseph’s hand after their father passed away, they threw themselves upon his mercy and even appealed to Jacob’s final wishes to save them. But Joseph, his eyes fixed steadfastly on the perspective of God upon the entire matter, holds no such purpose as their destruction in his mind. He deeply loved his brothers and had forgiven them. Besides this, how could he wish harm against them when what they intended for evil, God meant for good?

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published November 19, 2010]

All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) of the Holy Bible

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

Jacob Blesses His Sons — Pt. 2

“And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.” (Genesis 49:1)

After Jacob finished pronouncing a blessing over the sons of Joseph, he called his eleven other sons to him that he might do likewise unto them. There is a marked transition between this chapter and the rest of the Old Testament; Jacob’s blessing on his sons changes the focus from the Patriarchs to the nation of Israel. Up to this point, God has been working primarily through individuals. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph — “Patriarchs”, the fathers of old. The story from Genesis 12 through the completion of the book is one concerning a single family. Now, we move outward and change the focus to a single nation. Genesis ends with 70 members of the family of Jacob, the entire nation of Israel at the time, while Exodus opens up with the number of Israelites numbering into the millions (Ex. 12:37). God will work throughout the remainder of the Old Testament through prophets, priests, judges, and kings. Yet all of these will be representatives of the nation itself (or else representatives of God to the nation, but it will be with the nation that God will deal).

Reuben

Jacob starts to speak the prophetic “blessings” over his sons and starts, as was customary, with the eldest son, Reuben. “My might and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power…”, Jacob begins (Gen. 49:3). It would seem for the briefest of moments that Reuben’s sins against his father were forgotten; that nothing of the blessings due him as first-born had been forfeited. As the man who believes his sins bear no consequence, Reuben must have breathed a sigh of relief as his father pronounced this wonderful benediction upon him. “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel“, Jacob continues. Reuben’s heart must have sunk as his father proceeded by announcing before the entire family exactly why this was so. Reuben lost his position as first-born among the sons of Jacob, and for what? The indiscretions of a single night cost him dearly, indeed (Gen. 35:22). Let us never suppose that our sins are wholly without consequence and that our own indiscretions will go unnoticed. The Lord forgives us when we confess our sins to Him, but they often carry temporal consequences in this life. Sin, when dealt with, will not cost us our position with God, but it can cost us our position in our family, our marriage, our work, and our community.

Reuben is described as “unstable as water.” As water will not bear under the load of practically any solid object; and as water will displace, bend, move, and ripple under the force of anything thrown into it, so was Reuben without a foundation of any sort. We caught a glimpse of the weakness of his character back in Gen. 37:22. Rather than take charge of the situation as he rightfully should have as eldest, Reuben attempts to convince his brothers to throw Joseph into a pit, so that he might sneak back later and rescue him. I do not wish to criticize Reuben’s actions (or rather, inactions), but it speaks volumes that he carried so little influence as the oldest brother that he was unable to insist that the brothers forego their wickedness. The only time we really see any decisiveness at all from Reuben is when he is either following his lusts (35:22) or his fears (42:22).

Simeon And Levi

The second and third sons of Jacob do not fare any better than Reuben. No qualifying benediction is even afforded them as Jacob denounces their wanton cruelty and the rashness of their retribution. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Yet Simeon and Levi took it upon themselves to execute judgment, not only on the man who attacked their sister, but upon the entire city that he lived in (Gen. 34:25-29)! It is always man’s tendency when exacting revenge to do so without equity, for he does not possess the objectivity nor the unbiased perspective of an omniscient God. We inevitably carry things too far, responding not so much in the interest of justice, but retaliation. The words of Simeon and Levi in Gen. 34:31 demonstrate that they believed their actions were justified, but like Reuben, their sins would cost them.

I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel“, Jacob announces on behalf of the Lord (Gen. 49:7). And so it would be for these two brothers who had joined together to carry out their wicked act of vengeance. The tribe of Simeon would find their inheritance in the land at the far southern end of Palestine, nestled at the edge of the Negev. Their land would actually be carved out from Judah’s inheritance; dry and arid, it would border against the desert wilderness (Josh. 19:9). For all intents and purposes, Simeon would be swallowed up by the larger tribe surrounding him. Levi would literally be scattered throughout the entire land, having no direct inheritance of their own (Num. 18:20). The tribe of Levi would, however, be given the honor of serving as the priests of the nation of Israel. Levi had taken it upon himself to deal with the sins of Shechem by slaying the man and his entire city, but the sons of Levi would be instructed in judging sin in God’s way.

Judah

Coming now to Jacob’s fourth son, Judah is the first of the brethren to receive a positive pronouncement from the mouth of his father. We know that Judah was in no way innocent of sin, why was God overlooking it? Why did Judah receive a blessing when he was just as guilty of sin as his older three brothers? The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that Judah dealt with his sin and turned from it. We saw back in Chapter 43 that Judah was a changed man after his sins against Joseph and his own daughter-in-law. Therefore, it is this fourth son of Jacob through whom the Royal lineage will arise. King David will come from the tribe of Judah, but more importantly, Jesus Christ, the King of kings will arise from the tribe of Judah. Jesus will be that “Choice Vine” (Gen. 49:11, John 15:1) to Whom Judah’s “foal” and “colt” shall be bound. Shiloh, the Giver of Peace, will hold the royal scepter in His hand and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.

Zebulun

Zebulun is destined to inherit a part of the land which stretches to the Northwest coast of Palestine, bordering with the city of Sidon of the Phoenicians. Zebulun is called a “haven of ships”; the land of this tribe will be one rooted in maritime commerce. As such, Zebulun is the more cosmopolitan of the tribes, engaging in trade with ships from various other nations. From a spiritual standpoint, Zebulun is representative of those within the Church whose own affairs closely border with those of the world. Having one foot planted firmly in the world and another in the Body of Christ, it is very often through these individuals that new “ideas” creep into the congregation, ideas which are little more than secularism dusted off and re-dressed. We must remain relevant to the world, they say, or we must present the Gospel to the world on their own level. It is always the original intention of such people to do as much exporting of ideas as importing, yet it never seems to work out that way. Once the Gospel becomes watered down and intermingled with secularism, there remains no “market” for it.

Issachar

If Zebulun represents the merchant within the Church, then Issachar is the laborer. “Crouching between two burdens”, Issachar is content to do what needs to be done that he might partake of the good rest and pleasant land for which he labors. A good and faithful servant, Issachar makes no effort to make a name for himself, but remains a servant — paying “tribute” to his King.

Dan

When Genesis 49:16 states that Dan shall “judge” his people, it carries more of the meaning that he shall protect them. We call those mighty and valiant men and women from the Book of Judges “judges”, yet they were not busying themselves in the office of a magistrate, or what we think of as a judge. These were the champions of the people, men and women appointed by God to deliver the nation from its enemies. Dan shall be a “serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels…” Adders were indigenous to Palestine, yet horses would be indicative of foreign invaders since horses were not an animal used by the Hebrews (Deut. 17:16). The picture here is of the tribe of Dan lying in wait to take out the invading enemy upon their entry into the land. Great and mighty warrior “judges” such as Samson (of the tribe of Dan) come to mind in this prophecy.

Gad

“A troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at last” (Genesis 49:19)

Perhaps no other verse in this entire chapter is more appropriate to every child of God than this. Are we not all overcome again and again, yet we possess the promise that, in the end, we shall overcome? Nevertheless, it is not we who overcome, but the One we serve has overcome already (John 16:33). Nestled in between Jacob’s pronouncement concerning Dan and this one concerning Gad is the simple, nearly parenthetical statement: “I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord.” It is not the military might of Dan which shall overcome, nor is it the power of Gad; it is the Salvation which God provides that shall cause the child of God to overcome. It is the mighty God of Jacob, from whence the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel comes (Gen. 49:24). Jesus Christ is the One Who secures the victory, not us. It is through His efforts that we have overcome, not our own.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published November 18, 2010]

All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) of the Holy Bible

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

Jacob Blesses His Sons — Pt. 1

“And Israel beheld Joseph’s sons, and said, Who are these? And Joseph said unto his father, They are my sons, whom God hath given me in this place. And he said, Bring them, I pray thee, unto me, and I will bless them.” (Genesis 48:8-9)

“By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.” (Hebrews 11:21)

Seventeen years have passed since Jacob has come to live with his sons in the land of Egypt. One matter of business remains before he dies: the blessings to be pronounced upon his sons. Before Jacob will pronounce his prophetic blessings on the twelve brothers, Joseph, hearing that his father lies sick in bed, brings his own two sons (Ephraim and Manasseh) to him that he might speak a blessing over them. In several ways, these two young men are illustrative of the Christian and his relationship to Christ.

First of all, they are born of two nations for they are both sons of Joseph (and Hebrew by him) and sons of Egypt by their mother, Asenath. Just as the Christian possesses two natures — the one fleshly, earthly; and the other spiritual, the nature we obtain when we become born again of God– these two sons of Joseph have within them that origin which speaks of this world (Egypt) and that which speaks of God (Israel). Yet they are recognized as Israelites completely, even so much that their names shall live on as the progenitors of two of the half-tribes of Israel. Much as the Christian looks toward a hope in Heaven, a place where he has never set foot, these two young men held their hope and identified their own future home as Canaan — a land upon which their own eyes had yet to fasten. Finally, Jacob, the father of Joseph, declares that these men are his own children; just as much as his own two eldest sons were. This speaks profoundly of God’s own adoption of the Christian as His own children (Eph. 1:5). As those born of Joseph become sons of his father, so are those born of Christ sons and daughters of His Father.

In the crossing of Jacob’s hands in blessing the sons of Joseph — the younger being blessed above the elder — we revisit a theme that has recurred again and again throughout Genesis. As Abel was favored by God over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, and Jacob over Esau, so is the younger Ephraim blessed above Manasseh. What a powerful reminder that God does not look upon things as man does, nor does He choose upon whom His favor shall fall based on the criteria that people do (1 Sam. 16:7). We are often reminded of this characteristic of the Lord in our own lives when He fails to bless those things in our lives that we feel He should. Those skills, talents, and “gifts” that we possess; those persons whom we feel are most appropriate to be used mightily of God are passed over in favor of those things which scarcely have drawn our attention at all. He crosses His own arms and places His hand of blessing on those things which we have placed so little value upon. “Not so, Father”, we tell Him, “for this is the firstborn.” This is the matter of most importance, Lord, this is the thing that ought to be blessed! “I know it, My son, I know it”, He calmly tells us, “But truly this other thing, this younger brother of that thing you are holding so dearly is greater than that.”

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published November 17, 2010]

All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) of the Holy Bible

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

Jacob Before Pharaoh

“And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” (Genesis 47:9)

Standing in the twilight of life, as the sun begins to set and the years remaining are far exceeded by those which have already elapsed, a person tends to reflect on all that they have and have not accomplished throughout their lifetime. As the time allotted to them to live upon this earth, at one time so seemingly endless and immeasurable, begins to draw to a close, there exists the unction to look back longingly — for surely the best days of life are now a memory. Oh, the stories they can tell! I had the privilege of working for a time in a nursing home and I always enjoyed hearing people at this stage of their life recount with great enthusiasm the exploits of their youth.

If anyone had such an ability to really share some stories about his own life, it was Jacob. And now he stood in the presence of none less than the Pharaoh of Egypt. What tales he might have recounted as he looked back over 130 years of life! There must have been a part of Jacob which desired to impress the King of Egypt; some part of him that welcomed the opportunity to share the exploits of his own youth. Yet he only tells Pharaoh two things: 1.) “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been”, and 2.) I accomplished nothing compared to my father and grandfather. The same hot-headed young man who had thought himself capable of outsmarting his brother and even his own father was now looking back on his life and saying, “I am not really anything compared with those who lived before me.” Jacob does not take this opportunity to play up his own importance at all, on the contrary, with great humility he moves himself quickly out of the spotlight.

“And Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh.” (Genesis 47:10)

For a great many years of his life now, Jacob had been walking with God. He had been a broken man and had to learn to walk anew. He could now look back upon all of his life from the Lord’s perspective and, seeing it as such, left no other conclusion than what he told Pharaoh. It’s not that Jacob was not a great man, we know that he was. But Jacob is standing before Pharaoh in the capacity of God’s representative. Jacob blessed Pharaoh. It was not that this Hebrew shepherd was of such greater earthly prominence than the ruler of Egypt, it was on behalf of the Lord that he blessed him. He came before Pharaoh in the name of the Lord. There is never any room for boasting for the person who does such.

When he is blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, Jacob refers to God as the “Angel which redeemed me from all evil” (Gen. 48:16). Therein he boasts — in Christ. It is not what Jacob has accomplished that is important, it is what God has done for him and through him. Few and evil have been my days, what I have done has not amounted to much of anything. But God has redeemed me from the evil which I myself have wrought. It is what He has done that is important.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published November 16, 2010]

All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) of the Holy Bible

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

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