“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
When a friend of mine gave me an old worn out copy of “Mere Christianity” I was skeptical to read it at first. In my mind I had already gone through the process of “checking Jesus out,” I knew that both secular and non-secular scholars did not debate that Jesus really existed as a prominent historical figure, however I still was not sure who he really was: A good teacher, a prophet of that day, or, was he really God incarnate, the promised Messiah? It was a small book and I had some time on my hands so I read it. It was so profound that I ended up reading it several times to grasp all of the things Lewis was saying!
Like C.S. Lewis, J. Warner Wallace is a former atheist who, because of the evidence, became a Christian. Watch a short 2 minute clip by this famous cold-case homicide detective, then watch a little longer presentation at the end of this post:
Like J. Warner Wallace I was skeptical of Christians, and the faith in general, but reading Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” made me want to go back to read, and study, the Gospels of the New Testament with intention that I had not had before. I discovered that because the Gospels are historical narratives, the audience to whom it was originally written and the broader context of the passages are extremely important, so here are a few tips to keep in mind when you read the New Testament Gospels:
1. The Gospels require you to grasp some background information regarding their historical context, culture and social norms. Many good study Bibles will help you with this but I also recommend these easy to read resources:
- The Essential Companion to Life in Bible Times, by Moisés Silva (Key insights for reading God’s Word)
- The Esential Bible Companion, by John H. Walton, Mark L. Strauss, and Ted Cooper Jr. (Maps, themes, timelines, key people and terms)
- Playing With Fire, by Walt Russell (How to read the Bible with correct interpretation)
- Killing Jesus, by Bill O’Rilley and Martin Dugard (Great insights on the history and culture of the times before, during and after Jesus)
Historical and Cultural Context of the Gospels:
Politically – A Roman world
Culturally – A Greek world
Religiously (in Jerusalem) – A Jewish world
Spoken languages of the day – Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Latin
2. There are four Gospels that record eyewitness accounts of the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. Each one is written in the first century A.D. to a different group of people by an author with a specific purpose in mind. Read each Gospel in its entirety (in one sitting if possible) and then focus on studying specific passages knowing the author, audience and purpose.
This overview might be helpful:
Matthew: Written by the Apostle Matthew, Jesus’ disciple. Written to Jewish Christians to show a picture of Jesus as the promised Messiah. Matthew writes with a focus on what Jesus said – His discourses; His prophecy fulfillment; His long sermons and Mountain theology that would resonate with the Jews because of Moses’ teachings in the Old Testament.
Mark: Written by John Mark from the Apostle Peter’s view along with Mark’s own eyewitness accounts. Written to Roman Christians to show Jesus as a servant of both God and man. Mark writes with a focus on what Jesus did – His servanthood and His miracles.
Luke: Written by Luke the Physician, Historian and companion of the Apostle Paul. Written to Greek Christians and Gentiles in general to show Jesus as the Son of Man and His humanity. Luke writes with a focus on what Jesus felt as a man – His human side; His parables; His prophecy fulfillment and the eyewitness accounts of His life to confirm the reports already circulating in the first century.
John: Written by the Apostle John, Jesus’ disciple and one of His inner circle of three. Written to the Church, both Jew and Gentile (and all humankind) in the later first century to prove Jesus’ Deity and to combat the growing heresy of Gnostic and other philosophical teachings creeping in the early Church. John writes with a focus on who Jesus is as the Son of God; His I AM statements and the eyewitness testimony that included specific miracles confirming His Deity.
3. The Gospels contain some of these characteristics and focus points in their narratives:
- The Gospels are historical narratives and primary sources written during the life and times of those who witnessed Jesus unlike “Gnostic” and other so-called gospels written well into the second century A.D. and beyond
- The Gospels present Jesus as the “New Covenant” and show how He fulfilled the Old Testament Covenants through victory over death and Satan’s attempt to crush the righteous seed (prophesied from the beginning in the Genesis account of the “Fall,” Genesis 3:15)
- One of the primary goals of the Gospel writers is to prove that Jesus is the promised Messiah who fulfilled all of the prophecies of the Old Testament
- The centrality of the Gospels focus on the Kingdom of God now and to come
- The Gospels present the “Good News” of Jesus Christ who brings us salvation by the grace of God (hesed), not of our own abilities, in order to live in relationship with Him now and in His house for eternity
- The Gospels reveal the character of God through the person of Jesus
- The Gospels introduce the Holy Spirit, third person of the Trinity, given to us by Jesus when we come to faith in Him, in order to teach us truth found in the Scriptures
- The Gospels give us Jesus’ teachings on end time living, including glimpses of Heaven and hell
Check out this 28 minute interview with J. Warner Wallace concerning the Gospels:
Join us next week as we further explore the Bible and A Case for Christ.
You will not find this material in the public school curriculum even though it is based on solid evidence and grounded in research. It is ironic that following the evidence to where it leads stops at the door of our public schools as they will not let a “Divine footprint” in! Join us as we examine evidence for Christianity and learn how to become a thoughtful defender and ambassador of your faith.
Click into the resource page of this website to view many of the top Christian thinkers and apologists along with some of their work; connecting to these types of resources is essential in your Christian growth.
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1 Peter 3:15