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NT Survey - 1 - The Gospels

by Pastor Al Robbins

Through the summer, our blog is going to feature a number of articles in a series that will give an overview of the New Testament. An overview is often called a Survey, especially in relation to scripture, coming from the definition of survey as: "to look at and examine all parts of (something)."

A Survey covers topics such as authorship, general purpose of the book, date of writing and key topics. By looking at a Survey of the New Testament, you can get a basic understanding of how the various books relate to each other within the grouping we call the New Testament.

The first four books in the New Testament detail the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and are called the Gospels. The word gospel comes from the Greek word evangelion (εὐαγγέλιον) meaning good news. Unlike much of the rest of the New Testament, most of which are letters, these four books directly relate to Jesus and His life and ministry on this earth.

Christians often wonder why there are four books that record this information, seeing as how they each offer different perspectives on Jesus' life. The four books are written from four different viewpoints, and are aimed at four different target audiences.

However, when we look at a Harmony of the Gospels, we see that the four books flow together to give a much more complete picture than any one or two or even three can give. The word harmony is similar to that used to describe a choir singing in four-part harmony. The blend of the four books give us a beautiful picture of the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

We read these books to see what Jesus taught His disciples and followers. Many versions of the Bible show the words of Jesus in red to emphasize them. However, although His words are very important, we believe that God inspired the writers as to what to write in their narratives as well, thus making the entire book important.

The first harmony of the Gospels of which any trace has survived is believed to have been written in the second century, around 170 AD. It used the four books that we have in our Bibles, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, although there were likely many other people who recorded the important events of this time.

The order that we see these books in our Bible has long been the common order, and was set in that order because it was believed that this was the chronological order in which they were written. Some scholars believe that Mark may have been written first. Whatever the order of writing, they are extremely valuable independently and corporately.

There are also scholars that disagree on the authorship of each of the Gospels. The authors did not include a cover page with all the biographical information that we see on modern books and articles. For the purposes of this article, however, we will use the commonly held view on authorship.

The Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew the tax collector (Matthew 9:9), also known as Levi. He was a Jew, and that is seen by much of what he writes. He starts with the geneology of "Jesus the Messiah" (Matthew 1:1), which would have been of much interest to the Jewish reader. His Gospel also includes about sixty references to the Jewish prophecies and about forty quotations from the Old Testament. The purpose of the rest of the book is also to show that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal King.

As Matthew was called by Jesus to become one of His apostles, his viewpoint is unique amongst the writers of the Gospels. Reading through his Gospel, we see Jesus calling His disciples and then begin His ministry. Matthew also records the plot to kill Jesus and His subsequent death on the cross. Matthew's Gospel ends with Jesus commissioning His disciples to make disciples.

Some of the distinctive features of the Gospel of Matthew are:

  Chapter 2
 
The visit of the Magi and the flight into Egypt
The return to Nazareth
  Chapter 5-7 The complete Sermon on the Mount
  Chapter 11 Jesus' promise to give rest to the heavy laden
  Chapter 14 Peter walking on the sea
  Chapter 26 The thirty pieces of silver received by Judas
  Chapter 27 The dream of Pilate's wife
  Chapter 28 The Great Commission

As Matthew's emphasis was on Jesus being the Messiah, the key passage for his Gospel is:

Matthew 16:13-19 (NLT)
13  When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
14  "Well," they replied, "some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets."
15  Then he asked them, "But who do you say I am?"
16  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
17  Jesus replied, "You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.
18  Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means rock'), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.
19  And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven."

 

The Gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark, the son of Mary of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), who accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25), and was alienated from Paul for a time. Mark and Paul's friendship was eventually restored (First Timothy 4:11). Tradition also says that Mark was a companion of Peter, and many scholars believe that Peter suggested much of the material that is included in his Gospel.

Unlike Matthew's Gospel that contains many references and quotations from the Old Testament, Mark's Gospel contains very few references to Old Testament prophecy, and only some quotations and references to the Old Testament. Because of this, Mark's Gospel seems to be written for an audience that consisted primarily of Roman or Gentile Christians. It is believed to be written in Rome, to the Roman church. This would be why Mark explains Jewish words and traditions, such as the hand-washing traditions explained in Mark 7:1-4.

Mark's Gospel presents Jesus of Nazareth as God's Suffering Servant, the Redeemer of the World. While emphasizing Jesus' divine power, he often refers to His human feelings as well, such as His disappointment and distress when people were looking more for a reason to accuse Him than a reason to celebrate Him.

Mark 3:1-5 (NIV)
1  Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.
2  Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.
3  Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone."
4  Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent.
5  He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

Matthew's Gospel is the shortest of the four Gospels, and is written in a very vivid and picturesque style. Subject matter that is also found in Matthew and Luke is dealt with in a more detailed manner. The author aims to let the wonderful works of Jesus testify to His deity, rather than the opinion of the author.

Nineteen miracles are recorded in Mark, demonstrating the supernatural power of Jesus Christ.

Eight prove His power over disease:

  1:31 Simon's mother-in-law
  1:41 A man with leprosy
  2:3-12 The paralytic
  3:1-5 The man with the shriveled hand
  5:25 The woman with a bleeding issue
  7:32 A deaf man
  8:23 A blind man
  10:46 Blind Bartamaeus

Five show His power over nature: 4:39; 6:41, 49; 8:8-9; 11:13-14.

  4:39 Jesus rebuked the waves
  6:42 Feeding the five thousand
  6:49 Walking on the water
  8:8-9 Feeding the four thousand
  11:13-14 Cursing the fig tree

Four demonstrate His authority over demons: 1:25; 5:1-13; 7:25-30; 9:26.

  1:25 Jesus drives out the evil spirit in Capernaum
  5:1-13 Healing the demon-possessed man at Gerasenes
  7:25-30 Healing the little girl in Tyre
  9:26 Healing a boy with an evil spirit

Two show His conquest over death: 5:42; 16:9.

  5:42 The daughter of Jairus
  16:9 Jesus appears to Mary Magdelene

Mark's reporting these miracles serve to show how Jesus came to minister to the people, which is illustrated by the key verse of Mark's Gospel:

Mark 10:45 (NIV)
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

The purpose of Mark's Gospel is primarily an evangelistic one. Mark presents the person and work of Jesus Christ to his audience so they can make a decision after hearing the "good news." 

 

Check back next week for the next article in this series: The Gospels of Luke and John.

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