Gospels Week 1: The Core Four

Reading

Matthew 1:1–5

Mark 1:1–5

Luke 1:1–5

John 1:1–5

Questions

  • Why are there four different gospels?
  • Who are the evangelists?

This week, we began our exploration of the Gospels. Each week we’ll look at a different theme, reading all four Gospels simultaneously and comparatively across different events in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. But this week, we zoomed out again, to ask: What exactly are we reading?

There are four Gospels, and we went into some of the reasons that these four have been canonised: they’re the oldest, and the most widely circulated (despite what John Barton has called the “Dan Brown theory of canonisation,” i.e., the conspiracy theory that some of the more edgy gospels were, well, edged out).

What really struck most of us was the differences between what’s in the Gospel text and the “apocrypha” stories that we grew up hearing about Jesus—many of the most famous features of the Nativity story, for example.

In short, here’s what we think of the four evangelists and their works:

Mark

Probably the oldest Gospel, written around AD 64. Uriel‘s Good News Bible gives a slightly earlier date of AD 55.

  • Begins: “The beginning of the good news…”
  • References Isaiah, and then segues into the story of John the Baptist, Jesus’ baptism (more on this next week), and immediately Jesus is in the desert for 40 days before coming back and proclaiming the good news.
  • Animal = Lion (we can remember this by St. Mark’s Square in Venice)

→ all about ACTION. The style is quite terse. Luke and Matthew are probably based in part on Mark, as well as maybe on a speculated source called “Q” that was a list of sayings of Jesus that would have been circulating around that time.

John

Somewhat untraditionally, we read John right after Mark. There’s definitely the biggest contrast between these two, which was pretty interesting. The Fourth Gospel was the last one to be written, around AD 100 at the earliest.

  • Begins: “In the beginning was the Word…” and talks about John the Baptist, but also the Father, the Son
  • Huge use of polysyndeton (linking clauses with “and” or another conjunction), very lyrical, almost oral. Has a timeless poetic quality.
  • Animal = Eagle

→ all about BELIEF. Word as flesh, flesh made word.

Matthew

Based partly on Mark. Dated AD 70–110.

  • Begins: “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah…” and lists the 14 generations spanning Abraham to David, then the 14 from David to the Babylonian exile, then 14 from Babylon to Jesus.
  • A bit more loquacious than Mark, but without John’s lyric poetic voice.
  • Animal = man (still not clear about this one)

→ seems to be all about TRADITION. How is Jesus rooted in the Jewish tradition, and what authority does he have?

Luke

The Gospel that both Gabriel and Lucifer grew up reading around Christmas. Luke was allegedly a doctor, who wrote around the time of Matthew and probably also used Mark as a source, along with the hypothetical Q.

  • Begins: “Many have undertaken to set down an orderly account…” and goes on about Zechariah, Elizabeth and the miraculous birth of John the Baptist. So, begins the earliest in Jesus’ timeline, before Jesus is even born. (Probably why it’s used so often for Christmas readings!)
  • Style is quite emotive, but still organised.
  • Animal = Bull/ox

→ seems more about FEELING, putting the Jesus story in context, really filling in the gaps.

We also talked a bit about the difference between scripture and importance: in the early Christian church, the Gospels were not considered scripture (as evidenced by their transmission via codex, rather than via scroll) but they were also seen as very important. In the Gospels we finally have an author (or at least more clear signs that one individual wrote each book), as Phanuel points out. Belial notes, too, that the storytelling structure of these books tends to be more modern and familiar than that of the Hebrew Bible: there is a clear narrative throughline, a clear protagonist (Jesus), and not as much digression and random rules thrown around.

For next time, Uriel suggests that we read the Nicene Creed — so much to look forward to! xx


Takeaways:

Having four versions of the story is kinda fun…?

Gems from the Convo

Is it all just fan fiction?

Gabriel

Does QAnon get its name from the Q Gospel?

Mephistopheles

Q is a level of security clearance
Gabriel

Image: “The Four Evangelists” by Cristóbal Alamanza. See his cool post about the painting here.

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