Reading the Gospels is like watching the movie, Inception. The stories that Jesus tell us are in context of the stories that Jesus is in which is in context of either Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John those books are in context of the New Testament and the New Testament is in context of the Bible as a whole. Thus the stories that Jesus tells are stories within stories within books within a book within a book.
The Gospels are the most important books ever written. These are the stories of how Christ lived. The only way into heaven is through Christ and to be Christian means to be like Christ. We cannot truly be Christian without understanding what Christ was like.
We cannot truly be Christian without understanding what Christ was like.
The word “Gospel” literally means “good news”. The Greek word for “Gospel” was “evangelion” which is where we get the words evangelists and evangelical. To be evangelical should then mean that your life reflects the Gospels of Christ. An evangelist is one who shares the good news with others.
One of many reasons why context is so important, when reading the Gospels, is because of the order in which the authors dictated the events of Christ’s life. The authors of the time didn’t feel the need to tell the stories of Christ in a chronological order, for this is not how records were kept in their time. They told the stories in a order that would best stress their points. This is why Luke 4 and Matthew 4 tell the stories of Jesus’ temptation in different orders.
So, if the order of events is not what we are looking for, then what can we look for? Here’s a list of questions to ask when reading the Bible:
- What does each small story teach us about who Jesus is?
- What is the theme found in each set of stories (sets of stories are broken up with narrative passages)?
- When is the story or prophecy occurring?
- What is the point of each story (remember to look for the subjects and not the objects subjects and not the objects of the stories)?
- By what means did the events in each story occur?
One of the most interesting aspects in the literary forms of the gospels is how the stories within them come in sets. Like a series of Doctor Who, each story has its own subject but also contributes to an over-arching theme for the series of stories being told. Each series either begins or ends with narrative, so that is how we distinguish one series from another.
Finally, we must consider the different, special literary forms found in the gospels. One such form is exaggeration. Jesus often exaggerated His points to be more clear in what He was saying, but we must not take these exaggerations literally. One great example of exaggeration in the gospels is when Jesus commands that we gouge out our eyes if it helps us avoid sin, all Jesus meant was for us to go to any length possible to avoid sinning. Jesus also used many metaphors and similes, such as when He commands Christians to be salt and light in the world – what is meant here is that we make the world a better place. Yet another form of literature depicted in the speech of Jesus is narrative irony, Jesus often would paint the rich as poor in spirit and vice versa.
When Jesus asks a question, He is really making a statement.
Rhetorical questions are yet another form of literature found to illustrate the words of Christ. Christ would often ask questions that He knew the answer to. When Jesus asks a question, He is really making a statement. Finally, there are many parables used in the words of Jesus. A parable is a story with its own unique meanings to it. A parable can have many messages but it always only has one subject. When Jesus tells a parable, He is really telling a story in the context of whatever story Jesus is part of to shed light on the over arching story; He does this so that we better understand Him in the context of the Gospel, as a whole. This allows us to understand the point of the New Testament as a whole, but the New Testament only makes sense when the reader knows the rules and terms that God set up for us all in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament showed us that we needed sacrifices to amend for the sins that we all commit, the New Testament shows how Christ lived a perfect life and died as a sacrifice for us all, the Gospels show us how He lived so that in our new freedom from sin we can live like Christ. Jesus’ stories help elaborate the ideas of who He was and is. So, in order to grasp the Gospels, we must understand the story, in the story, in a book, in a book, in a book! With this knowledge, we must all practice reading the gospels in all of their contexts. I believe that, through practice of learning to read the gospels, our knowledge will be committed to our hearts and then to our actions.
…. through practice of learning to read the gospels, our knowledge will be committed to our heats and then to our actions.
The point is: the gospels are complex literary structures that we must understand in order to be Christ-like.
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Reference & Reading List:
 Duvall, J. Scott, and J. Daniel Hays. Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-on Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2001. 423.
 Gabel, John B., and Charles B. Wheeler. The Bible as Literature: An Introduction. New York: Oxford UP, 1986. Print.