2013/09/02: 4 Gospels

Our most significant source of information about Jesus Christ comes from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament. Yet the four gospel accounts should not be taken as an exhaustive narrative of the life and work of Jesus. John, for example, explicitly states that his account does not contain everything Jesus did (John 21:25).

Instead, the four writers had a specific audience in mind to address a defined issue. To that end, each one selected and arranged the factual historical data of Jesus's life in a way best suited for their chosen aim.  Chronology and exhaustive coverage of specific events was secondary. However, this does not negate the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit in shaping and directing the writers of the gospels through divine inspiration.

Because the gospels serve more as Spirit-drawn narrative portraits, any "harmonizing" of the four accounts falls to the student of the Bible. Weaving the gospels together is possible, but the gospels should never be taken as an exhaustive biography in the modern sense. Instead, the accounts follow the common ancient method of highlighting key events and themes. Each telling presents a distinct perspective on the same life.

Matthew: Christ is the Son of David, rightful heir to the Messianic throne. Here we see Christ's royal genealogy, the visit by the magi from the East to announce His kingly birth, and the proclamation of His laws in the Sermon on the Mount.

Mark: Here we find Jesus as the Servant of God. Although Jesus came as God to earth, He completely submitted Himself to the will of the Father in heaven and took on the form of a servant. Anything extraneous to that theme is excluded, which is why the narrative contains no references to Jesus's birth or youth.

Luke: To Luke, Jesus is the Son of Man—fully human but unlike any other human being in His perfect submission to God's will. For this reason, Luke traces the genealogy back to Adam (the first human).

John: John presents Jesus as the Son of God—fully divine. Jesus is not only flesh and bones, but He is also the Creator of all things in the beginning (John 1). Jesus reveals His nature as "I am," a title God gave as His own.

In many cases, claims concerning the "contradictions" between the gospels ignore the different purposes of the four writers. The focus helps us understand what each intended to emphasize in the character of Christ. One account could never capture the complete picture.

2013/08/29: Should “Peace” Guide Our Decisions?

Colossians 3:15 is a text that is constantly misunderstood by well-meaning Christians. Paul writes, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Some have accurately pointed out that the Greek word for “rule” means to act as arbiter or judge. They see this verse as a tool for knowing God’s will for our lives.

The conventional thinking goes something like this. When confronted with a decision, pray. If you feel a “peace” in your heart, go ahead. If you don’t feel peace, don’t proceed. This internal sense of peace acts like a judge helping you make decisions according to the will of God. A paraphrase might be: “And let feelings of peacefulness in your heart be the judge about God’s individual will for your life.” Is this what Paul means?

This is a classic example of how knowledge of the Greek can be dangerous if context is not taken into consideration. The word peace actually has two different meanings. It could mean a sense of inner harmony and emotional equanimity. Paul seems to have this definition in mind in Philippians 4:7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is the subjective sense of peace.

The word also has an objective sense. It sometimes means lack of conflict between two parties formerly at war with each other. This definition of peace is what Paul intends in Romans 5:1: “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Note the distinction between the peace of God and peace with God in these two verses.)

What sense of peace did Paul have in mind when writing to the Colossians? The Greek gives us no indication because the same word is used in all three cases. Once again, context is king. The specific meaning can only be known from the surrounding material.

In verse 11, Paul says that in the Body of Christ there are no divisions between Greek and Jew, slave and free, etc. He appeals for unity in the body characterized by forgiveness, humility, and gentleness. He then adds that harmony (“peace”) should be the rule that guides our relationships.

Paul has the objective sense of peace in mind here lack of conflict between Christians not a subjective feeling of peace in an individual Christian's heart.