My youngest daughter wants to tell you a story. Stick around because it is going to take some time. You may be scratching and looking at your watch, switching your position in your chair because your leg has fallen asleep. It’s just like that, we know her. She cannot bear to leave out even a single detail. That’s just her way to tell a story.
There is something in theology referred to as the dual authorship of Scripture... written by God through the agency of mere human beings. And so it is, that many witnesses will each will remember something in a slightly different manner. People have their own particular flavour, and this creates some interesting dynamics in Biblical studies. Pundits like Bart Ehrman scoff because they see some stories from the life of Jesus included by the author of one gospel and excluded from another. There is no perfect overlap for the accounts. Critics like him use this human inconsistency to punch holes in the overarching claims of the Gospel and protest that the whole cannot be true.
And yet… the human aspect of the gospels is what draws me, maybe because I am also a human being. There is a unique flavour to each gospel witness just like the various characters who make up a family. Matthew the former tax collector, was all about the Kingdom of God. You can see that emphasis as you move through his gospel. Stories and parables of Jesus that promised and told about that promised and future kingdom. As a tax collector and of a priestly lineage, he must have been fascinated that beyond prestige and money, something much better was to come.
Mark’s was the first gospel account to be recorded, in about 66 AD. He is also known as John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas quarrelled over John Mark, because Paul thought he was a lightweight. And yet, the gifts of youth are not like that of age and experience. They see the world differently, and bring a sense of energy and impatience. It can be a gift. The gospel of Mark is short, unadorned, and vivid. It dives right into the deeds of Jesus, with an emphasis on agency, power, and pointing out that Jesus was not just some itinerant miracle worker, he was the promised Messiah.
Luke was a doctor, who recorded the gospel of Luke, as well as the Acts of the Apostles. Luke was an observer of detail, and it was his purpose in writing down the account, to be orderly and precise. Almost like a scientist, Luke carefully draws a line through events that show what they mean in the big picture. One example is the Transfiguration. Luke adds an interesting detail to the story which is not found in other accounts. When Jesus is transfigured, he appears in a glorified state with Moses, (the law) and Elijah (the prophets). The clear implication is that Jesus is the last and final figure in a history of revelation. Luke specifies what they were talking about – the big plan, which was soon to be accomplished with Jesus’ death in Jerusalem. In this way, his orderly account is the record of a witness who was not just telling a story, he is passing on what the story means.
After the synoptic gospels we come to John, the youngest of the apostles. His gospel is considered to be mystical and set apart from the other accounts. Perhaps we associate it with Revelation, the last book of the Bible, which was also penned by John. Not surprisingly, his gospel is all about the love of God, as passed down through Jesus. During Jesus’ passion in the garden, his prayer for the apostles he was leaving behind, was captured by John, like a message etched on his heart.
“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth…” John was writing a love letter into the future - for you and me, the disciples of today.
According to Martin Luther, all scripture is allegory to other scripture. Saint Augustine continued this thought, drawing a line connecting the Old to the New. “The New Testament is concealed within the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New”. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about itself.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
“For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” 2 Peter 1:21
“You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:15
As some kind of human witness, here we are today, still talking about the Gospel, and trying to live our lives in the focus of its lens. Our own version of the story is never perfect, and therein lies the rub. We carry this treasure in earthen vessels. And yet the word of God goes forth and perpetuates itself in the world. It has that power.
“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11
It’s enough to draw out a few Amens, Hallelujahs and other such holy words from the most crusty of mortals.