Saturday, July 24, 2010

Page Turner

I have at times come across people who rankle at reading the Bible because it 'jumps around'.

A non-Christian I know will not read Scripture until someone comes up with a version that has no repetition and is chronological.

I suspect the  problem these people have is with the Gospels, which do have topics repeated.

Thing is...we can't remove the repetition in the Gospels, and then provide a totally chronological rendering of the writings therein, and still refer to it as the Bible.

And why can't we?

The New Testament was written by several different authors (as was Hebrew Scripture) and is actually a collection of books.  The Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each wrote the events in Jesus' life slightly differently, in ways which seemed to target different audiences.

The Gospel of John is actually very different from the other three Gospels in its approach to the events and teachings of Christ.  It is not one of the 'synoptic' (same eye) Gospels.

To try to make the four Gospels into one book, would be something like taking four different biographies of one famous person and forcing them together into one, chronologically laid-out book.

Imagine if four biographies of, say, Martin Luther King Junior, variously written by an African American man, a British man, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and another Christian clergyman, existed.  Would they tell the same story?  Hardly likely.  Putting them together into one tale would create an entirely new book.

So it is with the Gospels.  Each writer had a different background.  They wrote explained and emphasised the Gospel events according to their backgrounds the backgrounds of those they were addressing...Jews, gentiles, pagans, etc.

The bible as we know it was originally written as separate books.  We still refer to the sections of the bible as 'books'.  There was much discussion, in the early Church, as to which of these many many books were actually intended by God ('inspired') to be in a collected bible. 

Depending on where you were, the canon of Hebrew Scripture varied.  Christians had to figure out which of their books were intended for Christians.  The New Testament also had to be chosen from a variety of books in circulation.

The Christian canon of Scripture in use since the fourth century, experienced a serious challenge in the West when Martin Luther spurred a revolt against the Church and its teaching.  He removed seven books, or parts of books, from what had come to be called the Old Testament.  He was acting on his own will with this one.  He also wanted to remove some books out of the New Testament.  Apparently even other Protestants didn't agree with him on that one...

Both Catholics and Protestants have the same New Testament.  We accept the same Gospels and Epistles (letters) although there is a wild divergence on what these writings mean.

And I am not aware of any scholarly effort to meld these books into one continuous book.

1 comment:

puzzled said...

This is a very interesting post. It makes a lot of sense because, after all, if you, I, and two others witnessed an accident and then gave our separate accounts of it, the accounts would not be exactly the same though all were true. Thank you.