In reading the Bible it is important to understand the various genres within the sixty-six books. In the Old Testament there are the books of law, of history, wisdom literature (also known as poetry), and the prophets. These writings were composed and circulated over a period of two thousand years. The New Testament contains eye witness stories (the gospels), a book of historical transition (Acts), personal letters (epistles), and a visionary poem (Revelation). These books were compiled and distributed in the first century.
In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John we experience a new literary form called gospel, rendered more precisely as “incarnational storytelling.” God reveals Himself in human form. They describe a thin slice of ancient history in Palestine under Roman rule. As these books are assimilated, we realize that the stories are about God working our salvation personally through Jesus Christ. They invite – and even insist on – our participation. The following considerations will assist in understanding these sacred writings.
- These narratives are authoritative and reliable accounts of the presence of the most unique and dynamic person in all of history. These four perspectives come to the conclusion that Jesus is who He claimed to be.
- Harmonies of the gospels are helpful in clarifying what took place in particular events. These are readily available in study Bibles.
- Geography (where) and chronology (when) are vital in properly understanding a text. Knowing the political and cultural issues will also help.
- It is important to know that these accounts do not give the complete story of the life of Christ. They include key aspects the Holy Spirit intended for the writers to tell.
- Each gospel paints a unique and detailed picture of Christ, and each has a unique target audience. Matthew writes mainly to a Jewish audience and portrays Christ as a king. The Messiah is characterized as a servant to a Roman audience in Mark. Luke’s emphasis is toward the Greeks, with Jesus seen as the Son of Man. John’s gospel is universal, affirming Jesus is the Son of God.
Next time…reading Acts.