May 25th, 2020
Hello and welcome to season 2 episode 79 of The Berean Manifesto, brought to you by The Ekklesian House. This is Pastor Bill and over the next 13 minutes, or so, we are going to be talking about the Gospels and their authors.
Before we get started, I want to give a big shout out to a resource I leaned on heavily putting this episode together, TheBibleJourney.org If you’re looking to get more into the Bible beyond the text on the page, I highly recommend you head over to TheBibleJourney.org It’s a great resource to look into the history of the Bible times and what was going on in the lives of the authors and the characters involved in the story.
When we read the Bible, hopefully, we approach the text with a certain level of reverence. However, when reading the New Testament we have these almost 4th wall breaking moments where one or another of its eight or nine authors say things that remind us of the fact that most of the New Testament wasn’t written with the intention of writing these great, long-lasting, and/or holy works, but as simple letters to other believers or churches. Like where Peter refers to Paul's teachings as “hard to grasp.” Or in 2 Timothy 4:13 CSB where Paul writes, “ When you come, bring the cloak I left in Troas with Carpus, as well as the scrolls, especially the parchments.”
To break this down a little further, the only New Testament texts that were, as far as we can tell, intentionally written as Holy texts for the New Testament where Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and Revelations were. They weren’t written in that order though. Mark was the first of the Gospel accounts to be penned, but it was the eighth (or ninth, depending on who you ask) New Testament text to be written. Four or five more texts of the New Testament were written before Luke’s Gospel was finished, and then Acts. Another seven of the New Testament texts would be written before Matthew would write his gospel, and finally John would write his Gospel account, his epistles, and Revelations. Although there is some debate on whether John wrote his epistles before or after writing Revelations. So in order of authorship, or as close as we can get that order, that’s James (written just a few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus) or some lists put Romans at the top, First and Second Thessalonians, Galatians, First and Second Corinthians, then for most lists Romans, Mark, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, Luke, Acts, First Timothy, Titus, Second Timothy, Hebrews, First and Second Peter, Jude, Matthew, John, First Second and Third John, and finally Revelations (written almost sixty years after Jesus death and resurrection.)
Focusing on the Gospels and their authors. First off, I find the order of placement of the Gospels in the Bible puzzling, and without doing any research, the only pattern I could deduce was that they are in reverse alphabetical order. After putting in the research I know it’s called the Augustine order as it was made popular by Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century. And, despite their reverse alphabetical order, Augustine and other less popular church leaders believed that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John actually was the chronological order the books were written in. As time went by, more evidence came to light allowing us to narrow down when these books were written and proving this arrangement to be erroneous. That is, erroneous if the goal is chronological order of when they were written.
The Gospel of Mark was written anonymously and only later attributed to John Mark who was a ministry companion of Peter and spent considerable time with Paul and Barnabas. There’s no evidence that Mark was present at any of the events he wrote about or that he even met Jesus at all, but there is speculation that the upper room was within Mark’s family home, and it’s rumored that he was the “certain young man” who ran away naked after Jesus was arrested in the garden.
The common belief was that Mark gathered the stories that Peter, Paul, and the other apostles would tell in ministry, at meals, and around the campfire late at night. Peter then dictated certain finer details to Mark finishing up his Gospel. A curious detail about the Gospel of Mark is that the oldest manuscripts we’ve found of this Gospel end with chapter 16 verse 8, with only newer manuscripts containing verses 9 through 20 either being added, or perhaps restored, later.
The second of the Gospels written, Luke, is the only book of the Bible to be written by a non-Hebrew. Or rather, the only book of the New Testament written by a non-Hebrew. You can’t really call some of the Old Testament writers Hebrews. Luke was a doctor who shared with John Mark in common that he never met Jesus and wasn’t present at the events of his text. Luke was led to the Lord by Paul and like Mark, also spent time with Paul in ministry. There are those who believe that John Mark and Luke wrote their Gospel accounts together while living with Paul in Rome during the two years he was under house arrest. The differences in the two Gospels existing due to their intended audiences. This is historically possible, both Mark and Luke are recorded as living with Paul for certain times during those two years. The more mainstream theory is that it was with a copy of Marks Gospel in hand, that Luke began interviewing people throughout Rome and beyond to confirm and expand on Mark’s Gospel with a non-Jewish audience, like himself, in mind. It was during this work that Luke also began writing the book of Acts, or The Acts of The Apostles, based off the testimonies given while researching for his Gospel account.
The third Gospel to be written, about 10 years after the first two, is the Gospel according to Matthew who is also known as Levi. Matthew was the first of Jesus' disciples to be called by The Lord, and probably the most hated member of Jesus' disciples. Before following Jesus, Matthew was a tax collector by trade, and while that may not mean much to say that today, in Jesus' time that meant he was a legalized thief. It was within his legal rights to take anything or however much he wanted from any non-Roman citizen in the name of “collecting taxes,” and as long as he paid the minimum amount due to his Roman overseers, he was good. Matthew’s Gospel is unique in that it is the only Gospel to be penned in Hebrew instead of Greek. Laying the Gospels of Mark and Matthew side by side it becomes clear that Matthew translated Mark’s Gospel into Hebrew and then added to it from his own memory and added emphasis and flare for his intended audience.
Finally, we get to the Gospel of John. John started his very unique Gospel about fifty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. John’s Gospel is unique in that Mark, Luke, and Matthew all focused on the gnostic side of Jesus. They focused on Jesus’ humanity and the power of God to move through the Messiah. These Gospels led to a movement of teaching called Gnosticism that basically claimed that Jesus was nothing before He was born, lived a human life, and was then elevated after death to the level of God. The Gospel of John directly focuses on pointing out that Jesus was God before He humbled Himself to be born as a human, moved in the authority of God after He was filled with the Holy Spirit, died, and was elevated back to the status He had before He was humbled.
The common belief of the day being that any man born had the potential to be The Messiah, John intentionally sorts His Gospel not by time like the others, but by the fulfillment of the prophesied miracles that highlight the Divinity of The Messiah instead of the common belief of the day.
If you just read the Gnostic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and then tried to read the rest of the New Testament you would suffer from quite a large cognitive dissidence, you would have this overwhelming sense like you’d missed a really important detail at some point. You be going back and asking, “Did I skip something? Did they leave something out?” it wouldn’t make much sense. The Gospel of John is the lynchpin that makes everything the rest of the New Testament says about Jesus make sense. The most interesting part about that, being that the Gospel of John was the 5th to the last book of the New Testament written, and John wrote those last 4 books himself.
This is Pastor Bill saying, “Until next time…”
P.S. On a personal side note, I like the idea of Jesus’ half-brother, James, being the first author of a New Testament text. Interesting details, Peter was the leader of the church after Jesus ascension, it wasn’t but a handful of years though before the church replaced him with James, either because Peter was better suited for ministry to Gentiles, or because Peter talked like a Gentile. Either way, James was most likely chosen because of the letter he wrote to the twelve tribes of Israel which became the book of James, or perhaps his appointment led to the writing of his letter and they chose him due to his being Jesus’ half-brother. After James, John led the church. John the disciple whom Jesus loved that went on to write the Gospel of John, the books of First Second and Third John, and Revelations, but when John was arrested Clement seems to assume leadership of the Apostolic Church from Rome. The Apostolic church goes on under what appears to be Paul’s leadership apart from the man they recognize as Bishop Clement who history begins calling Pope Clement I. And therein we have the first church split birthing the Orthodox Catholic church. Five hundred years later that church splits creating the Roman Catholic church, and despite historical evidence, both churches claim to this day to be the original unbroken church that Jesus gave to Peter despite neither actually being The Church, because The Church is people, not religious institutions, but I digress.