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New Testament – Gospels

“At the very center of our faith lies a person – Jesus Christ,”[1] write authors J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. The four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – provide a biography of this central figure of our faith. In this particular chapter, Duvall and Hays answer two questions: What are the Gospels? and How Should We Interpret Them?

What are the Gospels? We translate the word Gospel from the Greek euangelion, which literally means “good news.” In the Old Testament euangelion usually referred to the good news of a military or political victory. In the New Testament the word refers to either the good news proclaimed by Jesus or the good news of Him. These books are not presented as contemporary biographies are, rather, “the writers of the Gospels arrange Jesus’ actions topically rather than chronologically…”[2] The takeaway from the differences between all four Gospel accounts is this: each writer had a particular theological truth to convey to their audience and therefore told stories to emphasize and/or support that agenda. This is not to say that the authors made up stories or exaggerated accounts. Rather, the so-called discrepancies perceived by some turn out not to be contradictions but thematic variations of actual events.

How Should We Interpret Them? In order to answer this question, the authors pose two sub-questions as interpretive principles: 1. What does this small story tell about Jesus? 2. What is the Gospel writer trying to say to his readers by the way that he puts the smaller stories together? Also, pay attention to the characters, what is going on (i.e. the action) or being said, and why it is taking place. Usually the surrounding context (i.e. the previous and following verses or chapters will reveal a particular purpose or theme to the stories). Look for connections or common themes or patterns between that passage and the surrounding context. For example, if we read the story of Jesus casting out demons in Mark 5:1-20 while paying attention to the greater context of 4:35-41 and 5:24-43 we begin to see a theme that “Jesus is sovereign over forces that are hostile to God.”[3]

Finally, how should we apply what we read from the Gospels? Go back to Chapter 13 and apply those principles to the Gospel accounts. Remember, never lose sight of the larger context and you’ll be in the best position to properly interpret the text.

Check back next week for Chapter 16: New Testament – Acts.

We’ve barely scratched the surface with Grasping God’s Word! We highly recommend you purchase this excellent book here.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 269.

[2] Ibid, 270.

[3] Ibid, 280.

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