Context: Historical and Literary

It is always important to consider context whenever we read any passage from the Bible. When we read the gospel stories we need to remember that Jesus was a Jew living in first century Palestine. It is therefore important that we try and learn as much as we can about what life was like then. This information will give us a better understanding of the things that Jesus did and said. This information comes from reading commentaries and other books - not just from reading the Bible.

As we saw in the last section the gospels are four versions of one story. And therefore when we read a story in one gospel we should see if it is also told in one or more of the other gospels. It is important that we do not do this in order to fill in the gaps that each of the authors leaves with information from the other gospels - and then try to make sense of our newly created 'complete' story. Remember what we said in the last section - that what we have is God's word to us, not our reconstructions.

The reason that we read the other gospels is that they help us to identify what is different. Is the context of a saying different? If so then why did the author place it here? Is some information missing / added? If so, why?

It is also helpful to bear in mind what each of the authors was trying to do. The following acts as a basic guide.

Matthew, written to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, the eternal King, to a mainly Jewish audience in about 60-65.

Mark, written to present the person, work and teachings of Jesus, to Christians in Rome in about 55-60.

Luke, written to present an accurate account of the life of Jesus presenting him as perfect human and Saviour (1:1-4) to Theophilus, Gentiles and people everywhere, in about 60.

John, see 20:31, for new Christians and searching non-Christians in about 85-90.

Once again, we should not be afraid of the differences we find in the gospel - as if these prove that the gospels are just made up stories, with no basis in history. Instead we recognise and acknowledge the central role of the Holy Spirit - the same Holy Spirit who will help us as we seek to understand and apply God's word to us.

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