The gospels weren't written for you.

And that's okay

Posted on March 13, 2017

The gospels were written for the 1st century Christian community that the authors lived in.

When we look for a scientific level of accuracy in the accounts and treat them like some kind of written 'fly on the wall' documentary of Jesus' life... Then we are not doing justice to the author's intent and purpose, or to the context that the documents were written in.

When we leap straight from the story told all the way to our 21st century application without ever paying attention to the writer's intentions or the first reader's context then we are missing the primary point of the text.

We have to accept that the gospels were shaped by the Christian community already existent and not the other way around. By the time Mark wrote his gospel, there was already hymns and liturgies and ceremonies and theological debates and Mark wrote within that context. To try and claim that he was still a neutral observer amidst all that is not realistic. To try and claim that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit made Mark's writing somehow immune to that context is also ridiculous. For example, it makes a lot more sense to think of sections like the magnificat as poetry or hymnody already in use by the church which Luke injected into his narrative rather than an original composition of his (or Mary's) that the early church adopted. 

None of this means the Spirit stops working through the text. The spirit was there when the authors wrote it and he is there when the Church reads it. But to deny the scripture's inherent grounded humanity is to reduce it down to some fantasy scripture that might as well have been dug up out of the ground as gold plates or delivered by aliens. And that is a road I am not willing to go down. 

Those of us that preach; that love and respect the word of God need to be better at communicating the earthliness of the text. We need to study harder and be honest about the age of the texts and everything that entails (written by real people for a real 1st century audience). When we do that we will encourage at least 3 things in our congregations:

  1. An awareness of the mystery of Christ. Our whole faith revolves around the reality that God has entered into our timeline in order to redeem it. To appreciate anything of the truth of that, then we must struggle with the humanity of Jesus's story as well as His divinity.
  2. A dependency on the Church for growth. As we acknowledge the church's role in forming scripture, then we see ourselves connected to something greater. It is not just me and Jesus and the bible.
  3. A deeper love for the scriptures and the Spirit that breathes through them. When the words become real and not merely supernatural, then we are able to touch them and feel them and appreciate the ripples they have caused through the years. The 'god-breathed' nature of scripture is not merely a statement of its origin, but of its continued existence and purpose. And it is only when the words are real and human, that they have the spirit's breath in them.