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Tag Archives: Theology

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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Who Sent Joseph Into Egypt?

God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45:7-8)

The implications of this statement made by Joseph to his bewildered brothers must have been as perplexing and astounding to them as it has been to generations of Bible readers since it was first spoken. As believers, we tend to just sort of skip right through such profound statements with the unspoken understanding that, naturally, all things are under God’s control and He is in control of all things. Skeptics enjoy reading such statements as opportunities to impugn the character of God; assigning to Him full responsibility for the entirety of man’s errors. But what exactly do such statements really mean? More directly: was everything which we have read about occurring in the life of Joseph a part of God’s perfect plan?

Before we are too quick to answer this, we should consider what it would mean if all of these things were, in fact, the plan of God. First of all, it would imply that it was God’s plan for the brothers to commit sin by selling their brother into slavery. James tells us in his epistle that God never entices man to do evil (James 1:13) and consequently could never plan or intend for anyone to commit sin. Sin is, therefore, never a part of God’s perfect plan. Yet we are told that God sent Joseph into Egypt, i.e., that He planned for Joseph to go there. How is this possible if God did not intend for the brothers to sell him into slavery?

This is an area of disputation that has historically resulted in all sorts of theological dilemmas, calling into question where the line is drawn between God’s will and the free will of man. Does God or does He not ever step across that line in order to accomplish His perfect will? My simple answer to this is that He does not. What God does do is to take the opportunity to use even the sin, errors, and shortcomings of man (believers and unbelievers alike) to bring His will to pass. It was not God’s intention for the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery, but He chose to use that as the impetus that would put Joseph into the land of Egypt. God did not plan for Potiphar’s wife to make lewd advances toward Joseph nor to falsely accuse him of misconduct; yet He used those very things to facilitate Joseph’s delivery into prison — a place where he would come into close contact with the chief butler and baker of Pharaoh.

How God would have brought His will to pass apart from the sins of these people is anyone’s guess, but we can be assured that God did not need the sins of man to help His plans along. He never does. It speaks volumes about the sovereignty of our Lord in that He is able to accomplish His will in spite of man’s sin. What a profound reminder that God is in complete control!

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

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published November 11, 2010]

[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

Which Bible Version Do You Prefer?

A few weeks ago, I purchased a copy of the new Spurgeon Study Bible published by Holman Bible Publishers. This Bible uses the text of the Christian Standard Bible, a recent update of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, produced by the same publisher. My thoughts so far on this particular version is that it is an excellent English rendering of the Scriptures that seeks to blend the accuracy of a strict word-for-word translation with a clearer thought-for-thought wording where the original meaning might not be as readily understood by the 21st Century English speaker. They have labeled this approach “Optimal Equivalency” and it seems like a very good translation strategy, particularly for younger readers or new Christians.

Personally, I really enjoy reading a lot of the newer Bible versions that have hit the shelves in the past decade or two, although I do concur with the thoughts of many that we might be getting a little excessive with just how many new versions and constant updates of these versions are continuing to flood the market. And every time I see a new translation or update, I am reminded of just how passionate people can be about which Bible versions are superior to others. Some go so far as to be very dogmatic and rigid about which versions are indeed valid at all and which ones are corrupt, heretical, or outright perversions intentionally designed to lead people away from God. While most of us would never be so adamant about defending one translation over another, I believe that a lot of Christians have a particular version or versions that they certainly feel more comfortable with and maybe trust a little bit more because it is a version with which they are more familiar.

Having experimented with using several different versions on this website for Scripture quotations, going forward I would like to reference primarily one translation in order to remain consistent and avoid confusion (especially my own confusion!). I praise God that this website has gained quite a few regular readers recently and I really want to proceed carefully and prayerfully in deciding which version to choose for this. In articles that I have read in my own research, some have commented that they will not even read a blog or listen to a preacher that doesn’t use, for instance, the King James Version while others feel just as strongly opposed to those who do. It would be truly sad to alienate readers by using a version that they do not trust. In my opinion, there are several very good translations that would work nicely for the purpose of this website, but I would be very interested to know how those of you who take the time to read these posts feel before deciding. Below you will find a poll asking which, if any, Bible version you prefer and would most like to see quoted and referred to in these Bible studies.

Even if you are not a regular visitor, I would greatly appreciate your opinion. Please feel free to share any detailed thoughts in the comments section if you would like. Lord willing, in the coming weeks we will conclude the reposting of our Genesis study and will move over into a new study in the Gospel of Matthew. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any of the new posts as they come out. As always, may the Lord richly bless you in the study of His Word and thanks for reading!

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

Loren

 

Three Perspectives Atop Mt. Moriah – Isaac

“Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.” (Genesis 22:6)

One of the most often forgotten aspects of Abraham’s offering up of Isaac is the role of Isaac himself. Isaac is usually depicted as a young boy, or maybe an adolescent in his mid to late teens, in artwork dealing with the incident, as well as in the minds of those recounting or else hearing the story behind it. The logic seems to be that no young man having reached the age of maturity could have possibly willingly submitted himself under the knife of execution. He must have been a little tiny child, the reasoning goes, whom his father overpowered and tied down in order to carry out the sacrifice.

While the Genesis narrative does not tell us specifically how old Isaac was at the time, we know that his mother was 90 years old at his birth (Genesis 17:17). We also know that Sarah was 127 years old at the time of her death (Genesis 23:1), making Isaac 37 at the time. Since the very next event recorded after Abraham and Isaac return from Mt. Moriah is Sarah’s death, it would seem to make sense that the two events were at least somewhat close together chronologically. Personally, I believe that Isaac was 33 years old at the time, for reasons we shall see momentarily.

Regardless of Isaac’s exact age, we know that Abraham was an old man at this time, and we know that Isaac was at least old enough to bear upon his back the wood for the offering (Gen. 22:6). It would seem indisputable that Isaac was physically stronger than his elderly father. Had Isaac wanted to resist what his father was doing, he certainly could have done so. But Isaac did not. He was in complete trust and obedience to his father’s will, even unto the point of death. We speak so much of Abraham’s faith during this crisis, let us not forget Isaac’s!

“But [Jesus] emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)

The details that make this incident on Mt. Moriah such a vivid portrait of the incident nearly two millenia later on Mt. Calvary are staggering. Both involve a father and a beloved, only begotten son whom the father does not withhold. Both sons are obedient unto their fathers, even unto death. Both sons are delivered unto death, as it were, and returned again to their fathers alive on the third day (Gen. 22:4). Both bore upon their own shoulders the “wood” upon which they would offer up their lives (Gen. 22:6, John 19:17). And both went willingly to the place of execution, esteeming their own lives not so precious as fulfilling the will of the Father. Tradition holds that “Mt. Moriah” was the actual mount upon which Solomon’s Temple would later be constructed. Consequently, the very same ridge upon which Isaac was offered up, Jesus would be offered up. All of these similarities lead me to believe that Isaac was very likely the precise same age as our Lord was at the time each was “sacrificed.”

There are, of course, some important distinctions between the two, as well.  A substitution was found for Isaac (Gen. 22:13), while Jesus Christ was the Substitution for all mankind. Isaac’s life was spared, while the Lord Jesus’ life was not. Yet for all intents and purposes, Isaac was as good as dead. In Genesis 22:10, we see Abraham’s hand poised above his son, ready to plunge the knife that would end his life. When the writer to the Hebrews looks back on this event, he speaks as if Abraham had actually gone through with the sacrifice (Hebrews 11:17-19). He even adds that Isaac’s “resurrection” was a figure of Christ’s (v. 19). James also refers to this incident as indicative of the faith of Abraham, demonstrating the reality of the faith that he possessed (James 2:21). Although Abraham did not actually sacrifice his son, his willingness to obey God and do so was considered an act demonstrating his faith.

Abraham’s faith was mighty as he obeyed God and did not hold back his beloved son. But Isaac’s faith was also mighty as he submitted to the will of God and the will of his father.

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

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published February 25, 2010]

[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.

Scriptures marked (CSB) are taken from the Christian Standard Bible  (CSB) Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.

Scriptures marked (NLT) are taken from the New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible,New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scriptures marked (KJV) are taken from the King James Version of the Holy Bible, Public Domain.

El Shaddai

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God {El Shaddai}; walk before me, and be thou perfect.” (Genesis 17:1 KJV)

What a great contrast we have between the events of Chapters 16 and 17. Chapter 16 was all about the plans and schemes of Sarah and Abraham. Now, in Chapter 17, God tells Abraham what HE is going to do. Is this not the pattern that God so often lets unfold in our own lives? God tells us what He wants to do, we nod our heads in agreement — all the while thinking of what actions we ourselves shall perform in order that these things might come to pass. We “believe” God, yet we set about busying ourselves that we might validate His promise through our own actions. The Lord then patiently allows us to try things our own way and when we have come to the end of ourselves, after we have exhausted all of our own efforts and attempted all of our own methods, He graciously returns to meet us; fallen on our own faces (v. 3) and listening to His Words with an attentiveness and submission that only comes from the soul which knows its own limitations.

That the Lord is not given to the false sense of urgency which grips the impatient heart of man is punctuated by the span of time which stands silently between Genesis 16:16 and 17:1. Sarah and Abraham had felt that a decade was sufficient time to wait for God to make good His promise before taking up the cause themselves (16:3). Yet another 13 years transpire between these two chapters without so much as a single syllable of reassurance emitting from the mouth of God. There are times when we feel that the wait has been long enough and the season of our own comfort must surely be at hand, but the perfect timing of our Lord has yet to be realized; indeed, our wait has only just begun. When we become aware that it makes no difference what the duration is, that we have a God Who is never late nor early, then we learn what Abraham learned: God is “All-sufficient” for us in times of delay and times of deliverance.

God reveals Himself to Abraham in Genesis 17:1 as “God Almighty.” He declares that He is El Shaddai, the God in Whom is all-sufficiency. This revelation of God’s omnipotent attributes serves as a gentle rebuke against Abraham’s impetuosity. God graciously allows man to play a part in His Divine plan, but He does not need the assistance of man.  If we are willing to obey Him and wait on His timing, doing things in His way, then we reap the satisfaction that can only be derived from serving the purpose to which He has called us. God was “All-sufficient”, able to bring a living soul from the deadness and barrenness of Sarah’s womb. He was not limited in what He was able to perform by the “deadness” of Abraham and Sarah’s body. God did not need Hagar to bear the son of promise, nor would He permit her to do so. We have but to look at the repeated occurrences of the phrase “I will” coming from the mouth of God throughout this chapter to see that His covenant with Abraham was all about what He would do on Abraham’s behalf. He required faith from Abraham, He did not require him to bring about the promises through his own strength. His covenant with us, the New Covenant through Jesus Christ, requires the same.

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

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published January 7, 2010]

[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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