© L.D. Underwood 2010
Chapter 2: Preview of the Gospel Quartet
The reader of the New Testament is immediately confronted with the Gospels. The question one might need to ask is how many Gospels are there? Sometimes they are discussed as four gospels, but in reality, there really is only one Gospel. One set of facts given by four different witnesses. In fact, Paul says of the person who declares another Gospel should be anathematized in Galatians the first chapter.
So, there are four Gospel accounts, but one Christ, four records, but one objective, four pictures, but one person. Technically it is not Matthew’s Gospel but the Gospel according to Matthew, for he did not invent the good news he was simply the evangelist bearing the message. It is God's gospel; it is the gospel of Jesus Christ; it is the gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
- B: There are four voices of God which correspond with the four things that scripture is profitable for:
- Doctrine - the voice of the prophet always speaks of Christ.
- Refroof - the judge confronts sin
- Correction - the priest makes things right
- Training in righteousness - the king rules the flesh
The task of reading the Gospels is relatively simple. These books are easy to understand they are interesting to peruse. Readers are already treading ground that has been well trodden before. And that is and advantage, which means that one is not, necessarily wrestling with a subject that is completely unknown or forbidding. We have all formed certain impressions about these books before we have even opened them to begin to study them.
- B: But the treasures have been trampled. It is new ground for those studying the 'mystery hidden from the beginning'.
But there is also a disadvantage it seems to me that in the light that ideas tend to harden, and that there is resistance to change--even at our age. And our thinking about the gospels needs a drastic revolution. For our picture of Jesus Christ needs constant refocusing. There are so many Jesus’ around today. One almost feels like saying, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?” Therefore, we should attempt to come to these books in a fresh manner, as though we are reading them for the very first time.
How do we classify a Gospel? How would an imaginary librarian let’s say in Alexandria Egypt classify a copy of the Gospel according to Mark, if that book had been presented to the library in the last part of the first century? Where would she place it on the shelf? Well there would have been no appropriate existing shelf on which to place such a book. Therefore, the library would have to improvise. The Gospels were a new and totally unique literary genre; a totally new classification for which none of the categories of the time would do. There had been no Gospels before that time so they chose a new word to describe a new literary phenomenon. There was no known parallel or analogy to the Gospels before these famous four were written.
The term ‘gospel’ is from the Greek word euaggelion (εὐαγγέλιον) meaning ‘good news.’ The word gospel gives us our English word ‘good spell’ or ‘good news.’ Therefore, we think of the Gospel as the story of God’ s saving action in the life ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Christ came preaching the Gospel; he came preaching the good news of his redemptive work in fulfillment of prophecy. And so you can think of Jesus as both the bearer of the Good news as well as the content or the substance of that good news. Perhaps I should say the word has gone through a variety of usages. For example, the word ‘Gospel’ evangelium (or euaggelion) in Greek was used in non-Christian settings. By non-Christians the word meant good news of any type. For example, if there had been victory in a battle. Or if a new Roman ruler had been enthroned, they would call that good news. So, for non-Christians it was unprecedented to apply that term to a category of literature. So non-Christians used it for just any kind of good news, the biblical usage is to think of the Gospel as the good news of Jesus and his salvation. But then the third usage is literary where the word became used as a book title towards the end of the second century. They have been described by some as passion narratives with long introductions.
- B: The word 'gospel' is not a new idea, but like the gospels themselves, has it's source in the Old Testament. It is the 'good news of Pr 25:25, where the 'mystery' states: As 'the cross is revealed' through the 'Word of creation' to a weary one who has forgotten the mystery, so is 'marriage revealed to man' teaching from an enlarging earth.
It is the tidings 'basar' בשר of 1 Ch 16:23, Ps 40:9. 68:11, 96:2, Isa 40:9, 41:27, 52:7, 60:6, 61:1, Na 1:15 etc.
In terms of classifying the Gospels, they are not essays, because they do not attempt to discuss the subject from an impersonal or abstract view point as an essay would tend to do. Neither are the gospels biographies, technically, because they lack many of the details concerning Christ’s career. There is not detailed description of his appearance and there is little or no character development. Background facts and chronology are absent. There are huge gaps and therefore one would not think of these as being biographies in the true sense of that word.
Gospels are not theological treatises—that is there is no formal codification of doctrine there is no lengthy argument with big footnotes at the bottom. They are not theological treatises. They are not rambling reminiscences; that is, there is a definite organization, there is a specific purpose which one can detect in each of these books, so they are not just rambling along. They do not fit the classification of memoirs because the story and the events do not center around the author. The writers are practically anonymous because the focal point is Jesus Christ himself. So, these four books seem to form a literary character of their own. In the words of E.J. Goodspeed, “the Gospel is Christianity’s contribution to literary types. Its without doubt the most effective literary form of religious expression that has ever been devised" (125).
- B: Hmm. Actually they are theological treatises in outline form. They were delivered to churches by messengers who could 'fill in the blanks'. Everything in the Gospels is there because it fulfill the prophecy of the OT scriptures. They are a commentary on the OT in light of the new hermeneutic Jesus has given them. The OT sources are often not cited because the Jewish messengers knew the scriptures well. Having heard how an act of Jesus fulfilled scripture, they could relate it from memory after that. The gospels are sermon notes, written 10-15 years apart; capturing the best scholarship of the day.
What about harmonies? A harmony is written so that each of the units of the gospel accounts are put in parallel columns side by side. This is highly recommended as a useful study tool. But these helpful literary units in the hands of some of the destructive critics in the past have tried to destroy the very features and the very emphasis which the Holy Spirit has intended to arrest our minds and to comfort our hearts. There are all kinds of objections to harmonies that people have raised in recent times, particularly since the nineteenth century. Yet, they are quite and useful and legitimate tools if they’re used properly.
- B: When a harmony is studied with an eye to the differences, one can ascertain the hermeneutic rules applied by the authors as they read the OT. John uses 'notarikon'; the practice of dividing a Hebrew word into smaller parts. Matthew uses puns. Mark, written first does not have the hermeneutic skills of later writers, but generally points to the more easily understood prophecies.
Some of these harmonies will be in parallel columns, others are one continuous story; there are a variety of types of harmonies but lets always keep in mind, these Gospel writers were impressionists. And their accounts were pen pictures, they were not just mere annals, they were not just dry diaries, and therefore, exact chronological order was not one of their top priorities in writing. Each writer, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John had his own distinct plan, his own system of arrangement. And yet much of it duplicates each other, its reiterated it covers substantially the same ground. The best harmony is maintained by preserving the differences and the diversities of these four accounts. Don’t try to make four men argue who never quarreled in the first place. Don’t try to make them agree when they weren’t fighting each other to begin with. The order in each of these gospels is logical not necessarily chronological.
As mentioned before, there are different types: some have one continuous narrative with material from the four accounts interwoven together others have them in parallel column format and of course these are not recent innovations your author has described this as you have read it for today. By the way the oldest harmony of which we have any record is referred to as the Diatessaron which was compiled by a Christian named Tatian who lived in Syria around 160 or 170 AD. That is the oldest surviving harmony that we have.
Why are there four different Gospel accounts in the Bible? The first three seem to cover much the same ground. Wouldn’t one Gospel have been better? Why didn’t the four gospel writers collaborate and produce one gospel account? One could just dismiss the question very neatly, by saying, “Well, God willed it to be so—that we would have four.” But then the question arises, “Why did he so will it?” There are a number of responses to this question of four Gospel accounts.
- B: The Gentile church did not wish to be Jewish, and they didn't knwo the OT well, having received the minimal requirements for being Christian, as Paul preached "Christ and him crucified". Meanwhile the Jewish church was digging deeply into the scripture to see the "mystery hidden from the beginning". They became more proficient in finding fulfilled prophecies with time.
Every 10-15 years, the newest scholarship was passed over to the Greek church which only had an incidental interest in learning, since the OT mysteries are hidden in the Hebrew language and scripture. They preferred to read the Greek translation; the Septuagint, where the prophecies are obfuscated because of the translation.
So each author demonstrates a greater proficiency in reading the scriptures. The new material added shows things that the church had not understood from teh OT previously. Changes in wording reflect the tools used to understand and better explain the mysteries.
First of all it seems these enhance the sheer interest of the gospel data. It produces an interesting presentation. As some perhaps know, Christian doctrine is taught in the Bible by intriguing epistles, or letters written by Paul and other writers. And who doesn’t like reading a letter? In other words, doctrine is no put forth in formal dissertations, but rather very easy to read letters. In the same way the basic facts of the historical Christian faith are present by these four “penned pictures” to produce interest.
- B: I'm not sure about 'basic facts' being used to describe gospels. Mark, Matthew and Luke are a recollection of what Jesus did and taught, that were fulfillment of the ancient mystery. As they studied more, they discovered the mysteries and remembered more.
- It appears that John did an interpretive review, focusing more on the revelation of the mystery than the sequential events.
One finds the personalities and the idiosyncrasies of each gospel writer are very plainly observable. For example, there are some writers in the Bible who could be described as “protractionist”. A protractionist is someone who says something in twenty minutes that anybody else could say in five. Like a college professor who makes a statement and adds a footnote, and puts in the parentheses and eventually gets back to the them he/she started with. That’s a protractionist. And someone like John, among the Gospel writers, or someone like Paul among the writers of the letters would tend to be protractionists. They just tend to go on and on, and that is one type of writer.
In opposition to a protractionist, is what might be called an abbreviationist. Someone like John-Mark for example in Marks Gospel, where you have this happen and that happen and the other thing happened immediately, straightway. So there these different kinds of emphasis these different kinds of writing styles and whereas Mark saw things plainly and bluntly and literally, John on the other hand saw things very subtly, and profoundly and spiritually. This is why each of these four accounts will probably appeal to different readers in a different fashion. Matthew, for example, appeals to those who are logical and systematic, like a schoolteacher. It’s all organized in a very systematic manner. Mark, one might suppose, has more appeal to the clear-cut missionary who likes everything in terms of black and white. Luke on the other hand would appeal more to the sympathetic pastor. Whereas, John’s gospel might appeal more to the contemplative theologian.
So, this variety of expression, this diversity of personality found within each of these writings makes for very interesting reading. Perhaps this is a divine consideration for our human weakness. Where our minds begin to wonder and the like, where we have ever fresh surprises as to who this Jesus is. It makes it more interesting.
Secondly, it seems that four accounts give a more heart-satisfying picture of Jesus Christ. One photograph of a loved one is not enough. Different poses of a loved one help to recall for characteristic expressions. It is with Jesus Christ the beloved one. One book would not be sufficient to give us the full-orbed picture of who he is.
To provide a parallel of this if one might read the life of Socrates. There are two famous biographies of Socrates: one written by Xenophon who was a soldier; and one that was written by Plato who was more of a contemplative philosopher. And both of these men in writing about Socrates are very faithful to give the reader facts about Socrates’ life. But Xenophon pictures Socrates as a practical moralist whereas Plato pictures Socrates as more of a speculative thinker. And if there were only one without the other, we would have a distorted picture of who Socrates was.
The best harmony is not to destroy differences but to preserve those diversities. Because the more differences you have among the writers, the more fully formed the picture of Christ will be and the more heart-satisfying it will be. There are probably four accounts of the life of Christ because these harmonize with other biblical parallels. One might be familiar the four living Creatures in Ezekiel’s vision. Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10 describe the four living creatures around the throne of God. The fourth chapter of Revelation describes the four Seraphim around the throne of God. These are angelic or created beings nearest to the throne of God, and they very accurately express the likeness of God’s nature. So that when the Son of God, Jesus Christ became incarnate, when the word became flesh and Christ came to this earth we could imagine that the same qualities corresponding to the same moral nature of God, those same qualities around the throne of God would reappear in the person of Jesus Christ more clearly for us to behold. These are not types but they are illustrations or time honored similitude’s. They have been noted all the way back from about the second century and have been found in Christian art from about the fifth century. Where each of these living creatures or seraphim had certain qualities about them, that we also find expressed in Jesus Christ. For example, one of these living creatures was said to be like unto a lion.
A lion is noted for its strength—it is a picture of kingship; it is an emblem of which tribe? The tribe of Judah—the royal tribe, the Davidic tribe. Therefore, in Matthew’s gospel paralleling these seraphim, or this created being around the throne of God who is like a lion, in Matthew’s gospel Christ is seen as the Messianic King; The Promised Sovereign; coming to rule and to reign.
- B: The lion is a judge. Lion is ארי 'ariy' which is play on words with אור ‘owr for light which is a metaphor for holiness, which is expressed through judgement.
Another of these creatures was like an ox, and an ox speaks of lowly service, patient, productive service or labor. In Mark’s gospel Jesus seen as the powerful but humble servant of the Lord. The servant of Jehovah. The one who comes to suffer and to serve.
- B: You are using free-for-all allegory, I think.
'Boqer' for 'ox' also means 'morning' and the 'Son of God' בר with teh resurrection ר in his heart. It represents the resurrected sacrifice.
The third of these angelic beings is like unto a man. Man being the highest intelligence of God’s creation. Interestingly doctor Luke speaks of Jesus from the standpoint of his humanity. He shows Christ to be the perfect ideal Son of Man, who comes to share and to sympathize.
Notice all these first three, Matthew, Mark, Luke—lion, ox, man, all show Christ’s earthly life. But then the fourth living creature around the throne was like unto an eagle. The eagle that would soar into the heavenlies—and that speaks of deity or transcendence, or the one who is high over all. That is what the Gospel of John is all about. John just soars above the clouds. He reveals some of the mysteries of the Godhead, and he shows Jesus Christ as the personal and incarnate Son of God who comes to reveal and to redeem.
It is interesting to note, just like we have the lion, the ox, the man, the eagle, so we have Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, there is a parallel between them. Christ is not only the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham, and the Son of Adam, but also the Son of God. If that is not convincing, look at another parallel in the second chapter in the book of Numbers, where there is a description of the twelve tribes of Israel and when they were traveling, they were mobilized in a quadrangular formulation around the tabernacle—that is there were three tribes on each of the four sides of the tabernacle in the wilderness. Each of these tribes was under the leadership of the one tribe within that group. Each of these tribes had flags with symbols on them. In facct at the Brussels world’s fair in 1958, at the Israeli pavilion in Brussels they had these twelve flags of the various tribes with these same emblems upon them.
On the east side for example of the tabernacle you had several tribes that were under the banner of Judah, and on the flag for Judah, you had a lion; a lion of Gold, on a background of scarlet. On the west side you had the tribes of Manasseh who were under the standard of Ephraim. The flag for Ephraim is a black ox on a field of gold. On the south you had the three tribes of Gad and Simeon under the banner of the tribe of Reuben. And Reuben’s flag type was a man—the symbol of a man against a background of gold. And then on the North side you had the tribes of Asher and Naphtali under the standard of the tribe of Dan. The symbol of the tribe of Dan was an Eagle of Gold with a background of blue color.
Again, it is very interesting that on each side the leadership would have the same kinds of symbols that would harmonize with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Or if that is not enough to convince you, you could take prophetic portraits in the OT. One of the titles used to describe the Messiah in the OT was the Hebrew word ‘zamach’ the word for branch. Jeremiah 23:5 says, “Behold the day has come, says the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous branch and a King shall reign and prosper and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. The branch—messiah—who was a king; corresponding to Matthew. Zachariah 3:8, “Hear now oh Joshua the High priest behold I will bring forth my servant the branch. “My servant the branch corresponding to Mark. Zachariah 6:12, “Thus sayeth the Lord of hosts, ‘Behold the man whose name is the branch.’” And then Isaiah 4:2 reads, “And that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them… escape of Israel.” Showing his transcendence and glory and power. Each time the branch is mentioned, we have these same qualities of kingship, servanthood, manhood, deity underscored. Or notice the parallel phrases in Zachariah 9:9 which says, “Behold thy king”; Isaiah 42:1, “Behold my servant”; Zachariah 6:12, “Behold the man”; or Isaiah 40:9, “Behold your God.”
Or if one is interested in the colors of the tabernacle: purple, was the color of kingship; scarlet the color of redemption; white, the color of purity, and blue the color of heaven. All of these parallels are to show us that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and their distinctive emphasis, have parallels all the way through the Bible. Having four accounts harmonizes with those parallels.
A fourth reason why we have four gospel accounts is to keep in line with the background of each writer. Matthew, as you probably already know was an official of the Roman government; was known as a publican (not a Republican) but a publican, or a tax collector. And as such, he was bitterly hated by the people. What a perfect choice to write about Jesus Christ who was despised and rejected of men.
Mark on the other hand was a servant or the secretary to which apostle? Peter, the apostle Peter—he was his right-hand-man; one who ministered to him as a secretary or an assistant. How fitting for Mark to be used to present Jesus Christ as a servant of the Lord. See how it fits with the background of his own personhood.
Luke was a medical physician and as a doctor he was a student of human nature and the human body. And he could therefore write about the human perfections, and the sinless character as they were found in their fullest expression in the Son of Man Jesus Christ. And John, who was probably the youngest; the one who leaned on Jesus’ bosom, the one who was intimate and close to Christ is the Holy Spirit’s choice for presenting him, who in the bosom of the father is the Eternal Son of God.
All of this dove tailing with the background of each writer—none of that is accidental—it is all purposeful keeping in line with the background of each writer.
Another reason we have four gospel accounts, is to progressively unfold the characteristic endings. What do I mean by that? Well Matthew ends his Gospel with the risen Christ. Our Lord’s resurrection from a conquered grave. That resurrection is the crowning proof of His messiahship. That is the climactic act of regal power for Jesus—the resurrection.
If Matthew ends with the resurrection, where does Mark end? He ends with our Lord’s ascension from this spinning globe. I mean he’s talked about the humble servant of the Lord, now that servant is exalted through the ascension. The lowly one is now lifted to the place of honor and control as Lord of the universe, so Matthew ends with the resurrection, Mark with the ascension. Where do you suppose Luke ends his Gospel account? The promise of the Holy Spirit; and so he ends with the heavenly endure—our Lord’s promise about the soon coming Holy Spirit.
Then John closes his gospel where do you suppose? What’s next on the gospel calendar? Our Lord’s promise of his own second coming—The return of the Master. So each of them has a continuing or progressive ending from the resurrection to the ascension to the coming of the spirit to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Another reason we might have four accounts is to reach all types of people. Now there are people who in their study of the Bible get really wrapped up in what we call biblical numerics—numerology, numbers. And I believe that there are some numbers in the Bible which are symbolic, particularly number seven in some context. Some people feel that there is symbolism to everything in the tabernacle for example. I personally believe some of the pegs were there to hold the building up. And not necessarily a type or an illustration of something else.
- see יתד it is the nail that finished the work.
Some numbers are used symbolically in scripture. For those who specialize in this area, they say that the number ‘4’ is the number of Earth—the number of the human race. We have four points on the compass; we have four dimensions; we have four seasons of the year, and so forth. So they say that when the number four is used symbolically it refers to the terrestrial—to matter as well as to the temporal or mankind. And therefore, if that is true, we can say that the four gospels would refer to the fact that the good news is earth girdling; it is race embracing it is universal, it is for all kinds of people. Let’s see if that works out. Matthew writes particularly for Jews—to the Hebrew people and he has repeated references to the OT. By the way what would be the first miracle of healing that Matthew would record? Leprosy. Why? For the Jew that disease was very symbolic. Leprosy was a walking parable of the loathsomeness of sin. There was no cure in that day, no one was to touch a leper nothing could have struck the Jewish attention so rapidly as speaking about curing a leper.
Again, Matthew writes, “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, you are like white (washed) sepulchers.” well now that kind of a statement would be very meaningful to Jewish ears because to stumble over a grave, brought ceremonial defilement. We must understand that would have no meaning to a Greek, or to a Roman. Therefore, when Luke writes the same statement, he writes, “You are as graves which do not appear”—like graves that we don’t see. That would make more sense to a Greek, whereas for the Jew, become whitewashed sepulchers would have special significance. So, he is writing directly to Jews.
Mark on the other hand is writing his gospel to the Romans. We find that he has a lot of Latin words and presents Christ as the mighty miracle worker—that would certainly appeal to Roman people who are interested in power and might and strength.
Luke on the other hand would write to the Greeks, and he would show Christ’s matchless manhood. Now what do you suppose Luke’s first miracle of healing might be? Why do you suppose casting out demons? Why particularly for the Greeks. Greeks had a great deal of speculation about demonology and therefore for Luke to show Christ was matchless in his manhood and was able to cast out demons would be a tremendous insight for them. So, if he had put leprosy as the first miracle, many of the Greeks would have say so what. But with exorcism or with casting out demons that would really speak to them.
John on the other hand, wrote to the church he didn’t write until almost a generation after the other writers. And he emphasizes the unqualified deity of Jesus Christ. So, we can see that by writing to Jews and Romans and to Greeks and then later to the church of Jesus Christ, they are covering all of humanity at that time. What that is illustrating is that the Gospel is for all types of people, it is universal in its offer of salvation.
By way of summary, we can say that Matthew was written to Jews. The purpose of Matthew was to write to prove Jesus as the King, or messiah, the Son of David s the Lion. Mark on the other hand was written for Romans to prove Jesus to be the servant of the Lord. Luke would have been written to Greeks to prove Jesus is the perfect man. John was written to the church to prove Jesus as totally divine. Probably the key word in Matthew’s gospel would be the word ‘fulfilled.’ The key word probably in Marks Gospel would be ‘straightway’ or ‘immediately.’ The key word in Luke would be perhaps the word ‘compassion’ Jesus was moved with compassion. And the key word in the Gospel of John would be the word ‘believed.’
Matthew would write what Jesus said there are lots of discourses in Matthews Gospel, emphasizing what he said. Mark on the other hand emphasizes what Jesus did. Luke would stress how Jesus felt. And John would stress who Jesus was.
There are many other ways in which we can bring these thoughts together. We can even picture them in terms of artists; Matthew is very much like grandma Moses in terms of writing style; and several others can compare in much the same way.
There were several factors that brought these books into being. Jesus entrusted the good news of the Gospel to his disciples by word of mouth and that was a common educational practice in that day. Often times a Rabbi would make summary statements or would tell stories, and memory work was very common by these people. You see we have inherited the habit of writing things down in notes from the Greeks. That is the way the Greeks operated. The Jew would not do that. He would listen and then would remember. His memory was terrific. So Jesus spoke in Aramaic there was no stenographer present when he spoke, and so there was no word for word account of what he said except for what was kept in the memory of these writers.
For twenty years or more after Jesus’ death the good news remained in an oral tradition. It was passed on by word of mouth, from one head of the family, let us say, to the children or from one generation to the next generation. It is the general opinion of scholarship today, though it is debated, that perhaps Mark may have been the earliest of the Gospel accounts there is some debate as to whether Matthew or Mark should be the earliest but most scholars today probably believe that Mark was the earliest probably written around the early sixties. If that is the case, then the earliest written records about Jesus did not emerge until thirty or forty years after the life of Jesus in the flesh.
- LOL how many generations are in 20 years? It was taught in synagogues and churches. they had eyewitnesses to what Jesus did who related the stories, and they searched the scriptures to find out why he did them.
This might surprise some, but many of the letters or epistles written by Paul and other writers preceded the Gospel accounts. Acts through the epistles were composed much earlier than the Gospel accounts. So, if we want to go to the earliest book of the New Testament we do not go the Gospels, we go to several of the epistles. Either 1 Thessalonians or Galatians or one of those books. So, that the earliest document is about thirty years possibly longer than thirty years after Christ’s death.
- Not likely. The apostles were teaching parallel to Paul. Don't trust 'earliest' document theories. The earliest ones were probably worn out, but were contemporaneous to Paul. Paul was persecuting them originally.
Why this delay before recording these books in words? Well I think there are several factors. First of all, there was no need to write it down. We have the oral tradition from those who were close to Jesus people who were his disciples, people who were eyewitnesses and therefore you didn’t need to have something written down. The spoken word was regarded more highly than written accounts in those days. Not only that but this was a nonliterary age. Apart from some of the centers of culture like Athens or Rome, the first half of the Christian century was a non-literary age—they didn’t put things down in writing. Obviously, the days of printing and circulation were still many, many centuries later. Unlike today, where we have hundreds and hundreds of books that come off the press every month, and a lot of it junk, at that time the pen was an unfamiliar tool, not many people did writing in those times. We can understand why that was the case because of the cost involved. For a scribe to put something down in writing would cost a tremendous amount of money. One must remember they would only do it one copy at a time—they had no duplication processes. Someone has estimated that the four gospels alone if you going to reproduce them in that day, in pre-inflation prices would have cost something like $255.00 for one copy. So, there was tremendous cost involved. Then there was the expectation of the Parousia, the expectation of the second coming of Christ. He could come at any moment. In a situation like that, books are pretty irrelevant. This basically explains why there was a gap of twenty, thirty, or forty years before the first books were penned about the life of Christ.
What factors brought the production of these gospel accounts into being? First of all, there was the reading of scripture in Christian worship services. Not only did they read the Old Testament scriptures but now they were coming to regard these works as scripture and therefore would use them in the worship service. Secondly, they served as missionary propaganda for the church. When Paul for example would leave an area after having evangelized it, he would want to leave behind an account of the life of Jesus—that was necessary for the expansion of the missionary growth of the church. The fellowship was rapidly growing and needed to have some authoritative works in writing. This was necessary for catechetical purposes or teaching purposes for new converts and served as substitute for the living voices of the apostles. Oral tradition might have been impractical for transmission among some believers or gentile minds of the time. Additionally, the written gospels were necessary given the apparent delay of Christ’s return and arguably prompted by the Spirit of God.
Goodspeed, E.J. An Introduction to the New Testament. University of Chicago Press,
- Goodspeed is not reliable in many areas. He puts theories ahead of common sense.