The Nature of the Gospels

An article by Jose Oliveira, M.Div.
My first contact with the Gospels, and with the Bible in general, was by reading a pocket edition of Gospel of John. I read it when I was twelve years old. When I read it, I did not know that it was part of the New Testament or the Bible. I read in one breath from beginning to end, and the part that touched me the most was the crucifixion of Jesus, which when I read, I remember, I could not help but cry. I had been unknowingly touched by a writting nearly two thousand years old, which also had touched millions of other lives since their inception. Almost fifty years later, the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) still impress me. They impressed me so much that I became a student of them. I meditated on them, in them I sought answers and comfort in several hours. There is no doubt about the power of these biblical books. But this power that captivates the interest of many, is not due their literary beauty, for in the oldest manuscripts they are simply written, cast in the language of the simple and poor of those times. They were written by and for the simple. The beauty of teaching and life of Jesus of Nazareth is what make the Gospels the supernal writting they are. The person and life of Jesus of Nazareth determine to such a large extent the nature of the Gospels that we can say He is the heart and soul of the Gospels. Our propositional statement is: the Gospels are Jewish-Christian writings about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, with a kerygmatic purpose. This is, in a nutshell, the nature of the Gospels: the proclamation of the life and ministry of Jesus, called the Christ.

Had Christ manifested Himself in India, perhaps the writings that would tell His history would be of Indian nature. But it pleased the Father that this Son of God would be manifested in the context of a nation that was, among all the peoples of the earth, was the one which more amassed and best recorded the divine revelation in its history, the Jewish people. That is why we call the gospels “Jewish”, because they were the result of a new and massive revelation within Judaism, the one was given through Jesus of Nazareth. And they are called Christians Gospels because those who wrote them did not write about anyone but Jesus Christ. Had the Gospels been written about anyone else, they would not have had the impact and influence they have today over all Humanity. However, what more can be said about the nature of the Gospels, and their subjacent jesusonian nature? I organized my thoughts on the subject utilizing three epistemological categories: essential (core), instrumental (goal) and existential (contribution).

Firstly, let’s recognize a basic fact about the Gospels, something so obvious that it is often not even mentioned. The gospels are religious writings. Today’s evangelical conservatism, through the last century fundamentalism, created a resistance to the term “religion”, although it was not well either in origin or in the early development of Christianity, where the term “religion” was used as a synonym for “faith. “Evangelicals favor the term “spiritual” concerning the Gospels than “religious.” To them the gospels are “spiritual” writings, not “religious” However, I deem important to refer to the Gospels as religious writings in nature, precisely because this sets, as writings, on par with the other religious writings of all the other religions of the world.That even more may offend evangelicals who exacerbated the already existing religious exclusivism in Christianity since old, wanting to make Christianity something superior to other religions. – which it is not. Christianity is, in essence, an evolutionary religion as all the others. Gospels are, as writings, the same as any other religious writings. What differentiates both Christianity and its writings of other religions is not their nature, but their content, especially the incomparable person of Jesus Christ, of Whom primarily the Gospels are about.

Secondly, as to the purpose of the Gospels, we observe that their objective is largely biographical. Here I diverge also from the most accepted opinion in Evangelicalism, which assumes that the Gospels are not biographical reports, ie, they are not biographies of Jesus Christ. And, although this may be formally correct, because not all elements of a biography are present in the style of the Gospels, it is undeniable that they register in writing form (graphical), one way or another, facts that deal with a life (bio ), that of Jesus Christ. We are not going so far as to assert that the Gospels are biographies in the strict sense of the term. What we claim is that the Gospels came to exist with a biographic purpose, that of to tell, from a fideistic way, the life of Jesus Christ.. In this sense, the Gospels are a biographical effort about a religious leader like many others existing in the world literature, either they are fideistic or not. This egalitarian classification of the Gospels does not reduce their importance, because as repeatedly stated here,the importance and the influence of the Gospels is not in the style in which they were written; consists rather in life of Whom these ancient writings depict: that of Jesus of Nazareth. It doesn’t matter that the Gospels do not meet the formal aspects of a biography; what matters is that, in their own way, they bring relevance to the unique life of this unique human being, with a unique mission — Jesus Christ.

Finally, regarding the contribution of the Gospels, I want to assert their confessional nature. The gospels are not confessional in the style of modern Confessions of Faith or the creeds which date back to the beginnings of Christianity. The gospels are confessional because they were written from the perspective of those who believed in the person and teachings of Jesus Christ and wanted to express and propagate (kerygma) such a confession of faith. The Gospels are not a biographical research about Jesus Christ in which the authors, perhaps from a neutral position inquire about the life of Jesus Christ. Although one of the Gospels seems to have this investigative purpose, the Gospel of Luke, it clearly considered the confessional aspect: first in the introduction in which the Gospel is given the mission of confirming Teofilo’s faith in Christ, and in the content, through the selection of material and characters studied, which were the circle of the apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ. The Gospels do not cast an open-discussion, theoretical proposition that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The Gospels categorically say that, and expect their readers also believe in this confession. That is why the Gospels are writings strictly of confessional nature. But they are not unique in this aspect. Many other religious writings, incorporate a confessional aspect of the religion they represent. Again, the appearance of the Gospels, as writings, is not the fact that they confess a new religion, is rather the fact that they confess faith in the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. It was the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, which the evangelists confessed to believe that transformed lives for almost two thousand years, not any confession.

Therefore, the Gospels are distinct and unique writings, but not because they are Jewish or Christian, rather because they deal with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Likewise, the authority of the Gospels is not from his religious, biographical or confessional character, but their authority comes from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ present in them. The gospels are not perfect as writings… they have errors of many types, including concepts, but they nowhere claim to be inerrant. The gospels are accounts that care about one thing and one thing only: to proclaim Jesus Christ and his teachings. And they did it in the context of human limitations; however, the unique nature of the person and teachings of Jesus Christ are of such power that overcome these limitations and attract human religious faith of people who allow themselves to be transformed by these evangelical convictions. So what made the Gospels become Gospels, is not the fact that they belong to a superior religion, or because they exhibit a higher literary style. But it is, because in a clear and undeniable way, they proclaim in a confessional manner, this unique and superior person, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Lord of this Universe and Savior of those who believe in Him.

Rev. Jose Oliveira has a Master’s degree in Divinity from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary (Lombard, IL – USA) and is the founder/director of the Illinois Theological Seminary and theTheological Institute Simonton, both online theological schools, streaming from Chicago, IL – USA. If you would like to study theology at the online medium, contact the Illinois Theological Seminary.

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