5. The four canonical Gospels narrate the truth about Jesus.The Gospels, read within the matrix of scripture from Genesis to Revelation, convey the truth about the identity of Jesus more faithfully than speculative reconstructions produced by modernist historical methods. The canonical narratives are normative for the church’s proclamation and practice.
How are the four portraits of Jesus related to one another? To what extent are historical investigations necessary or helpful in understanding Jesus? How is the entirety of scripture necessary to an accurate portrayal of Jesus? To what extent is a right understanding of the whole of scripture necessary to an appropriate understanding of the identity of Jesus?
Prima facie, Thesis #5 is a pretty easy one to accept. T5 echoes a foundational orthodox truth that many Christ-followers probably just “grow up with.” Many of us never even thought to question this truth until an author by the name of Brown wrote that little novel about some DaVinci guy and his code. Etymology, though not a be-all-end-all reason, points us to affirming T5 as well. The term gospel comes to us from Old English (that of Beowulf but not quite Chaucer, in use from ca. 450-1100 A.D.). The OE expression god-spell (roughly “good tidings“) became slurred into our current term gospel. And god-spell is a pretty accurate translation of the Greek euangelion (eu, good, -angelion, message). So, Christians calling the first four books of the canonical New Testament the “gospel” isn’t a newly invented conspiracy by the (ir)Religious Right or a bunch of pomo narrativists. The belief in a concise anthology of the stories of Christ traces back fifteen-hundred years, the element of story has been in our term for that anthology forever. I dunno, I guess I’m just an etymology nerd. And there’s beauty in the establishedness and archaity of one damn good story.
How are the four portraits of Jesus related to one another? Well, the obvious response is that they each point to Jesus. They each tell his story. They each convict me in areas where I’m failing to love as he did. To try to come up with something really deep isn’t necessary; I’ll do that when I’ve got my adulterous eyes and murderous mind completely held in check. To what extent are historical investigations necessary or helpful in understanding Jesus? Necessary? Not very. Helpful? Definitely, and so interesting! Also, if we want to paint a comprehensive context in which to introduce people to Jesus and his message, these investigations have lots of potential. But, telling the story of Jesus in history and in one’s own life is not something that requires a deep academic knowledge of the context surrounding Jesus. How is the entirety of scripture necessary to an accurate portrayal of Jesus? Since Jesus was such a good guy, we like to picture him always neatly and royally dressed. But a casual reading of a certain prophet whose name begins with “I” debunks this image. Now, Jesus’ appearance is a minor issue. But it’s an example of material outside the Gospels contributing to a more accurate depiction of Christ. To what extent is a right understanding of the whole of scripture necessary to an appropriate understanding of the identity of Jesus? Very. Christ’s work and his identity are still important, and do indeed open the Kingdom to us. But just focusing on Christ’s divinity and saving sacrifice really misses the point. Be a whole, a mature Christ-follower and get to know the big picture of God’s involvement among us.