Notes for teaching the New Testament, by Mama Brenda.
Lesson 1 Leader’s notes: Gospel or Gospels?
If your group of ladies have not done the Old Testament course, you may want to consider doing Lesson 1 from that course – So why study the Bible? – to be sure you are all looking at the Bible the same way. That lesson is reproduced in this book, see the Appendix 1, pages 64-65.
Or you may choose to revise some of the content – or jump straight into this lesson here!
What does the word ‘gospel’ mean to you? May be a good discussion starting point.
Read 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 - are these familiar words?
Lesson 1 Gospel or Gospels?
We use the word ‘gospel’ in several different ways. So let’s explore those uses to understand what ‘Gospel’ or ‘gospel’ means.
The English word ‘gospel’ comes from two words in an ancient English language -
god = good spel = story So the gospel or a gospel is a good true story.
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 Paul says “I want to remind you of the gospel. By this gospel you are saved….. that Christ died for our sins …..that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day…….and that He appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time.” So the gospel is the message of Christ dying for our sins, His burial, resurrection and risen appearances.
Gospel - usually with a capital G - also refers to the stories of Jesus’ life in the New Testament, written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
- ‘The Gospel’ is a phrase with which you will be familiar if you worship in a church with a liturgy or written form of service. It refers to the Bible readings set for the day from one of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.
- Sometimes in spoken English you could hear the phrase – ‘the gospel truth’ - meaning whatever is being said is ‘absolute truth’. In this modern usage, however, it may be used to back up a suspect statement. Be very careful if you hear it.
- ‘Gospel music’ is lively religious music of Black American origin - some dating from slavery in the USA where it was an encouragement and a way of teaching Christian truth. Gospel music is still being written.
The Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
In the time of Jesus many ordinary people did not have or use books and scrolls. The people who met Jesus, and those who followed Him, would have retained His messages, not only by writing, but by remembering. As the early churches grew they would have spoken these to each other, and so they were preserved orally. There were probably groups of these remembered teachings and sayings, put together to be kept and used to encourage and teach younger Christians, later giving forms to worship. Look at 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Paul had passed this truth on to them when he was with them, and expected them to remember it and use it. Nearly two thousand years later, many Christians are familiar with these words in communion services they attend.
As time went on people realised that this knowledge of Jesus’ life and teaching needed
to be written for people in the future to have it. As with any famous person there were truths circulating about the Jesus and there were also guesses made and stories invented about Him. There were accurate stories and sayings recorded, and also invented ones. But who was going to decide what was good and what was bad?
Think up a small story from everyday life. There need to be several things happening. Several people’s names. Several reactions. Tell the story. Now ask the ladies to say one thing they found in the story. I think you will find a variety of answers.
The differences we find in the Gospels are differences of emphasis, differing interest in the mind of the writer – they are not problems to cause us to doubt the inspiration of God in our Bibles.
We have access to Bibles that have 39 separate books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. How did they all come to be? The Bible finally came together as we know it in the 4th century AD (300-400 AD.) The Church Fathers - wise, respected spiritual leaders - between 100-300 AD gathered the sacred texts and evaluated them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Which ones were seen to be used by God? Authentic, helpful, used to encourage? Accepted by the Church over time? These became what is technically called ‘the canon of scripture’ - our Bible.
All four of the Gospel writers wrote to preserve information for the future, but they did not look at the information in the same way. They had their own perspectives and backgrounds.
Mark’s Gospel was probably written by John Mark who was a companion of Paul and of Peter. Check: Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24, 1 Peter 5:13 (son = son in the faith). His Gospel is the shortest of the four, and is very direct. It could have been the reminiscences of Peter, taken down and put together by Mark. Peter was executed in Rome about A.D. 65.
Matthew has a similar order to Mark but is longer. The disciple Matthew, Matthew 10:3, was probably the author. He used lots of quotes from the Old Testament. Perhaps he used Mark’s written account, and added the Jewish material to help his target Jewish audience.
Luke sets out his intention in Luke 1:1-4, to write an historical account of the life of Jesus. His order also follows Mark, but he adds other details he knows. Some of this information has to have come from Mary, the mother of Jesus, see Luke 1:5-2:52.
Luke and Matthew may also have used material known within the fellowship of believers but not preserved for us anywhere else. John makes reference to such material in John 20:30.
John tells us in John 20:31 the purpose of his Gospel: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” Usually John’s Gospel is thought to be the latest of the four canonical gospels. Perhaps, as he taught consistently in Ephesus, he realised the need for people to have a theological appraisal of the life of Christ to keep alongside Paul’s letters and the Synoptic gospels. Perhaps. It is not written to be a biography or a story, but is rather an explanation, a theology book, the thoughts of a witness, to encourage the believers in knowing, loving and serving God.
Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels. ‘Syn' in Greek meaning together and ’optic‘ meaning view. They looked at the material the same way. All three were written as a history of Jesus. John wrote to share teaching and prove that Jesus was (and is) the Son of God, the expression of God in human form.
The sequence of some events is not always the same in one gospel as in another.
If we believe that God put the Bible together, then we must allow the perfect Father God to use imperfect human memories, and also allow God to put ideas on the arrangement of the material into the heads of those He chose to record the earthly history of His Son.