Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why Are There Four Gospels in the New Testament?

I recently heard a sermon by John MacArthur of Grace Community Church, located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, in which he made a very interesting statement about how Bible study is modeled to a church by the Senior Pastor or Teaching Pastor of a particular church. Pastor MacArthur stated (and I am paraphrasing) that whatever a pastor is interested in will be what is preached from the pulpit. Well, I have personally witnessed this in a tweet form my old pastor. He tweeted the following on Nov. 5:
My topic 4 Sunday am. is act 2:42-47 Why do we Have only 4 Gosples? Becouse there is only 4 Learning Styles all part of the body of Christ!!
The reason why this is a topic is because the pastor finds this interesting. This is a pastor that has spent thousands of dollars traversing the country trying to find the fastest way to grow a church. During my time at this church, we went from the Willow Creek method to the Saddleback method, to the learning styles, to the dimensional method. All with no success. I say that because that while there was a growth spike, there was no real lasting fruit. the church continually hovers around 200 core attenders. I do not say members, because this church does not have a membership roll. What is never used is the clear blueprint that Luke was inspired by the Holy Spirit to record. It was always Acts 2 plus something else.

Now I had two questions regarding this tweet. First, what relationship does the four "learning styles" and Acts 2:42-47 have to do with each other? Second, why do we have four gospels in the New Testament?

First, let me briefly deal with the first question. Absolutely nothing! Why? Very simply the four "learning styles"  are based on the teachings of Ray Zacharias, who is now retired from active teaching. In his seminar, he speaks of four learning styles: Innovative, Common Sense, Dynamic and Analytical learners (a more comprehensive summary can be found here). Mr. Zacharias, then links these for styles to the Gospels:

Matthew = Common Sense
Mark = Dynamic
Luke = Analytic
John = Innovative

The problem is that these four learning styles are not the only measure of human learning styles available. In fact, I would say that there are as many different learning styles as there are people. Now as a general rule, I do find that most people tend to fit into one of these four categories. Let me be clear I am not refuting this method.

So what is my issue? The linking of these learning styles to Acts chapter two. I am sure that the pastor in question will magically transport this late 20th century idea back to the 1st century church, and how it was a key to the growth of the church. That the apostles used this idea to help grow the church.

Well, there are a number of problems with this view, but I will limit myself to three.

First, the idea of learning styles would have been completely foreign to the 1st century Jewish mindset. I say this because this idea was invented in the mid-20th century. The general teaching method in the 1st century was oral, in which the rabbi spoke and the disciples listened. Some bright young Jew got the idea to write the teachings of a rabbi down, giving birth to the Midrash and the Talmud. As a general rule, however, teaching was spoken and recited and not written and read.

Second, this idea would have been even more foreign to the apostles. These were men who were not educated in the Jewish religious tradition. As I have presented above, this idea was foreign to them. If this idea was foreign to them, then it would be even more foreign to the "unlettered" apostles.

Third, the Holy Spirit gives us the actual reason for the growth of the Jerusalem church. The first, and most important reason was "the apostles' teaching". These men were teaching the words of God to the people of God first and foremost because that was, and is, the key to making disciples. These men taught the "uncut" Word of God. Their commitment to the teaching, please note that the church is to be taught and not preached to, was so strong that when problems regarding the dispersion of food came up, they assigned deacons to handle that issue so that they could maintain their devotion to teaching the people of God (Acts 6:1-6).

So it is clear that the apostles did not utilize anything other than the Word of God to grow the church. Likewise, modern pastors must focus on the teaching of the Word of God as the key to church growth and not the modern humanistic musings of man.

Now, why are there four gospel accounts of the life of Christ? Why not three, or five, or many more? The answer to that is because each of these Gospels are directed to one of four audiences that made up the then known world. Each Gospel answers a particular question that each of the audiences would have regarding the life of Christ. The Gospel;s were not written because there are only four learning styles. Now I do agree that there are parallels between the learning styles and the Gospels, but that was not the assertion that was made. The assertion that was made was that there are four Gospels because there are four learning styles. This is incorrect and must be refuted.

First, Matthew was written primarily to the Jews. Matthew answers the question, "What did Jesus say?" If you had an edition of the New Testament with the sayings of Jesus in red letters, and removed the red letters from it you would eviscerate the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew gives us a genealogy of Jesus that establishes His right to the throne of David. It contains the fullest record of the parables and preaching of Jesus. Matthew gives us the fullest accounts of the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet Discourses. Further, Matthew is arranged thematically and not chronologically. The miracles, parables and sayings of Jesus are clustered around various themes. The key term in Matthew is "Kingdom of Heaven" which is evidence that this Gospel was written by a Jew to be read by Jews.

Mark's Gospel was written to Romans. It answers the question, "What did Jesus do?" It emphasizes the the deeds of Jesus. You find no genealogies in Mark. The reason is that the Romans did not care about who Jesus descended from. The Romans were interested in power. They needed to be convinced that Jesus was more powerful than Caesar. The key words in Mark are "immediately" and "authority". These words demonstrate Jesus' power. Mark also converted monetary units to lira.

The Gospel of Luke was written to the Greeks. Greeks were not interested in what Jesus said or how much power Jesus had. They were interested in who followed Jesus. Luke answers that question by emphasizing the followers of Jesus, e.g., Simeon (2:22-35), Anna (2:36-38) and Mary (2:51). Luke interviewed the eyewitnesses (1:3). He gives us more detail than any other Evangelist. Why were the followers of Jesus so important to the Greeks? Because Jesus needed to be shown as a universal Savior.

The last Gospel is John's account of the life of Christ. This book was written to Christians. It answers the question, "Who was Jesus?" It emphasizes the deity of Jesus. The seven "I Am" statements are found in John. In John you find Jesus being called God explicitly, by both His friends and His enemies. I can go further, but that would go beyond the realm of my argument.

In conclusion, it must be repeated that the reason why there is four Gospels is because of the four core audiences in the world at the time of the writing of the Gospels. The learning styles were not an idea that even existed at in the 1st century in Jewish thought and by extension early Christian thought. The reason is that the learning styles were not invented until the mid 20th century. The learning styles has no place in building the church. Acts chapter two gives us the blueprint for that. Since the Holy Spirit authored that, and the Pentecostal movement is so big on the work of the Holy Spirit, then they should be the first to reject humanistic methods of growing a church. Lastly, the reason why there are four Gospels is because they answer four essential questions as to the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. I hope and pray that this educates people as to why the Holy Spirit gave us four gospels and how the Holy Spirit intends the church to be grown.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Context, Context, Context!

Today I came across a Facebook post that said the following:
People say respect is earned. I diagree its given. The word says give and it shall be given unto u. What have u been giving?
 Now this little blurb, in and of itself is not questionable. I believe that there is a certain amount of respect that should be given to others. There is also a certain type of respect that must be earned, but that is not the point I wish to focus on. What I would like to examine a little bit more is the use of Luke 6:38 as a basis for this statement.

I have been posting lately about how certain verses are taken out of context and turned into a pretext for heresy or heterodoxical ideas. By heterodox, I mean a departure from strict orthodox beliefs but are not heretical. In other words, I would call the Pentecostal baptism of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues a heterodox doctrine because it departs from strict orthodoxy regarding the historical understanding of that doctrine.

This Facebook posting, however, is a little different in that it represents just how deep the post-modern literary idea has invaded the church. You see the post-modern literary model is the idea that no one can understand the intent of a writer, unless the reader personally knows the author. Therefore, the reader can read into the literary work any idea she wants. What we have here is a clear case of that post-modern idea.

Now part of the problem that we are addressing is caused by the chapter and verse divisions that he find in the Bible. These chapter and verse divisions are not part of the existing manuscripts. They were additions made by the French Protestant printer Robert Stephanus. Many of these divisions appear arbitrary and in many cases utterly random.  They also tend to confuse readers and to be the cause of much bad teaching. These chapter and verse divisions, however, have become so ingrained that to change them now would cause mass confusion. It is possible to read the Bible and to ignore the chapter and verse divisions because there are translations that indicate paragraphs which make interpretation easier.

What the person posted was a partial quote. Now I do not want it to seem that I am picking on this particular person. I have heard this verse used as a basis for generous giving during the receiving of the offering during a church service, particularly within the Pentecostal churches. She quoted Luke 6:38. I have posted it below from the English Standard Version for you to see:
give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
 First, look at the word "give" and note that the letter g is lower case. This indicates that this word does not begin a sentence. Second, there is the pronoun "it". What does the word "it" refer to? Does it refer to the word give? If so, what are we to give? This verse, in and of itself, is very ambiguous. Since this is the case, we must look at the broader context of the verse so let's go back one verse to 37. I have posted both verses below:
 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Now the overall context of the chapter is Luke's rendition of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The particular paragraph in question is dealing with judging others. With this in mind, we can see that what is in question in verses 37 & 38 is mercy and forgiveness. It is clear from the literary context that neither respect nor money. The error demonstrated here is the the error of taking one verse out of its context and forcing it into a context that is completely foreign to the author and the audience. The point I am trying to make is that Christians must interpret the bible in a very consistent manner. We cannot play with the bible. It is a the book that God has given us, not as a guide to moral behavior, but as a guide to show us the grace, mercy & justice of God.

There is more I can say on this topic, and I will in future posts.