|FINAL ESSAY FOR THE COURSE|
THE FOUR GOSPELS
REV. ROBERT JAMES SHAND MS, D.DIV.
As a minister of The Free Church of Universal Life, I have a close personal connection to all of the gospels of Jesus the Nazarene. This course both challenged and frustrated me on several levels. After many years of study and research of the "alternate" gospels, I found myself confronted with this seemingly simple interpretation of the four traditionally accepted gospels. The text presented these books in a way that was both simplistic and enlightening. This text even further confirmed my belief that there was only one source for all of these gospels.
As presented, the gospels are almost a verbatim narration of one story that was circulated throughout early Christendom. This is not surprising, however. When Jesus sent his followers out to teach in His name, they took with them the oral narrative of the life of Jesus. And in at least one situation, this narrative was written down and circulated to the early Church.
The original version of this written story is lost to history. But what we now read as the four gospels of the Bible, I believe, is a close approximation of that early text. That the 4th century Christian leaders who met to determine the "true" Bible saw these four narratives as inspired by God is not that difficult to understand. Imagine being in a crowded room with hundreds of people, each with particular points of view and a cannons of beliefs that seem either too conservative or liberal to those you profess. And during these weeks and months of deliberations four stories seem to surface, each from a different country, written in a different language, and each being put forth as the "truth".
In those days, only one or two generations away from paganism and polytheism in Rome, seeing four documents stating essentially the same exact thing must have seem divine. After much discussion and debate, these early Christian leaders could agree that these four nearly identical stories must present the true account of the life and ministry of Jesus.
This theory is not intended to diminish the importance of the Word. It only highlights the need to read and understand other narratives of the teachings of Jesus. I believe that Jesus the Nazarene was, and is, the Messiah sent by God, the Creator. But, the four gospels do not present the entire teachings of Jesus. In recent history we have been able to see and read other documents which shed more light on Jesus the Nazarene and his life and teachings. These new texts allow for a rethink of the four traditional gospels. It is important to note that none of the new documents suggest anything that pulls the gospels into question or that might diminish Jesus and his teachings. The one exception might be that Jesus may not have actually died on the cross and ascended to heaven, but lived to marry and have children. Even if that was true, it doesn't take away from His message. But that is another essay.
By Rev. Robert Shand
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