Posts Tagged ‘John’

The Gospels

April 4, 2011
gospel of mark

gospel of mark

Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. Four gospels. When were they written, by who were they written, what do they tell us?

John is radically different from the first three and was written much later. The first three seem at first glance to be similar, but if we look carefully there are differences. What do these differences tell us?

Consider the Parable of the Sower. Before reading further, reflect on what you can recall of this parable, then read on.

Mathew 13: 3-9

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Mark 4: 3-9

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Luke 8:4-8

When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

All appears to be the same, but look very carefully. Look at the second to last sentence. Note Mathew refers to seeds. But in particular note Luke tells us not only that some seed fell on the path but that they were trampled on.

If we interpret the seed as the word of God that fell on deaf ears, but in some places took root and bore fruit, then what Luke has added implies that some who heard the word of God were persecuted. A different time, a different place.

Mark was the first Gospel. It is shorter than the other gospels. It starts with Jesus as a young man, we learn nothing of his early history.

Mathew incorporates much of Mark, showing that the author of Mathew was aware of Mark and accepted it as an authoritative text. He starts though by giving us the lineage of Jesus. He is establishing his authority. He is also placing it in a Jewish context.

Luke too also incorporates much of Mark, showing that the author of Luke was aware of Mark and accepted it as an authoritative text. Luke is the great story teller. Luke flushes the story out a little, he tells us a great crowd gathered, people from town after town came. Luke was also the author of Acts. Luke is writing within a Greco-Roman context.

Not only do Mathew and Luke incorporate Mark into their gospels in what is little more than a cut and paste operation, they also to a large extent keep the same order.

There are though a couple of lines in Mark that do not make it into either Mathew or Luke. These refer to the author of Mark. Do we assume that as Mathew and Luke are writing their gospels, they do not wish a reference to another gospel writer?

Mathew and Luke also have common text, but not drawn from Mark. Principally the sayings of Jesus. What were they drawing on? In the absence of another gospel, scholars postulated a gospel which they called Q.

In 1945, the Nag Hammadi find was discovered. A cache of books in an earthenware jar. Within that find was the Gospel of Thomas. It was the sayings of Jesus with no narrative.

The Gospel of Thomas is different from the other four gospels. It is a mystical gospel, the sayings are enigmatic, he who understands will achieve immortality, seek and ye shall find, the Kingdom of Heaven is all around us, in the here and now.

The Gospel of Thomas differs in other ways too. The Virgin Birth is not there, nor the Crucifixion, nor the Judgement at the End of Days.

Thomas 9

Jesus said: Look, there was a man who came out to sow seed. He filled his hand with seed and threw it about. Some fell onto the road, and birds ate it. Some fell onto rocks and could not root and produced no grain. Some fell into patches of thorny weeds that kept it from growing, and grubs ate it. Some seed fell upon good soil and grew and produced good grain. It was 60 units per measure and 120 units per measure.

The gospels were written after the death of Jesus. For the authors Jesus was still present, they were inspired by His presence. This begs the question where do we draw the line?

Philip Yancey, when writing of the life of Jesus, draws on Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, who were inspired by God. Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho is inspired by God.

We find the same if we go back in time. Hildegard von Bingen saw herself as a feather on the breath of God. She communicated with God through visions. The music of J S Bach, the writings of Thomas Aquinas. The visionary William Blake had many visions and encounters with angels. Handel’s Messiah was an inspiration from angels and an attempt to capture their voices. On completing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ Handel is reported to have exclaimed ‘I think I did see all Heaven open before me and the great God Himself.’

Why four gospels? Why not three, why not five? Why was the Gospel of Thomas omitted? Around 180 AD, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (now Lyons in France), argued that there should be only four gospels.

The Gospel of Thomas could have been omitted as it did not support the prevailing doctrine, thus had to be destroyed as a heretical book. It could be it was not known to the church in Europe even though it was known in the Middle East.

There are many books and letters missing from the Bible. Although we no longer refer to them as heretical, they tend to be dismissed as lacking authority. This is a mistake. They were once seen as sacred texts, as important as those we are familiar with.

Many thanks to the Rev Robert Cotton, Rector of Holy Trinity in Guildford, on whose excellent talk I have drawn. Any mistakes, omissions, additions, are mine and mine alone. And special thanks to the helpers who prepared and served an excellent dinner.

Synchronicity: I picked up my copy of The Gospel of Thomas by Stevan Davies. It fell open at the Parable of the Sower!

The Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel of Thomas Collection
– Jesus Wars
– Lost Scriptures
The mystery of Melchizedek
Where does religion come from?
Christian Theology and Gaia
The Role of Science and Faith in the Development of Civilisations

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