Who were the gospels really for?
Did you know that the gospels of St Matthew and St Mark were written with a completely different type of reader in mind?
St Matthews gospel was written primarily for Jewish converts, while St Mark’s gospel was written for Roman.
The simple fact is a strong hint to us that it’s important to be careful to avoid approaching each of the four gospels in the same way.
The Gospel of Mark.There is an early Christian tradition that Mark was a follower of St Peter in Rome. His gospel was probably written there shortly before or after the death of Peter.It is thought that Mark’s was the first of the gospels to be written about 64 – 67 AD. Mark never saw Jesus so it is likely that he used Peter’s accounts of the words of Jesus in his gospel.This gospel was written primarily for Roman converts who wanted a permanent record of the life of Jesus as it had been taught to them by St Peter. Because it was for Romans, Mark’s gospel contains many explanations of Jewish customs. It also explains he meaning of Aramaic words and expressions.The Old Testament is hardly ever quoted. Mark concentrates on Jesus as the Son of God rather than as the Saviour promised in the Old Testament.Mark’s gospel is noted for the miracles it records. It is more a gospel of action than of words. It is the shortest of the four and can be read at one sitting.
The Gospel of Matthew.
This gospel has been described as the greatest book ever written. It is certainly the most familiar and the most popular of the four gospels.Written with a fine sense of order and balance, it presents Jesus as a great teacher who fulfils the Old Testament prophecies; the promised Messiah who completes God’s plan.It was written primarily for Jewish converts and therefore contains many references to the Old Testament. It was probably composed around 70 AD.This gospel has been called the most important single document of Christian faith because it contains the fullest account of the life and teaching of Jesus.It is also the most frequently used in the teaching and worship of the Church.Matthew was painstaking teacher. Unlike Mark, ho was often content to state bald facts about Jesus, Matthew explains at length the significance of Jesus and his teaching. Because he is speaking with a Jewish audience in mind, he plans his writing around five great discourses of Christ which are seen as the equivalent of the five books of the old law.
The Gospel of Luke.
As well as a gospel, Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles, making him the author of just over a quarter of the entire New Testament. His writings describe fully the beginnings of Christianity from the earliest moments of Christ’s life to his ascension and beyond to the years when the community of the Church was growing and spreading.Luke is the only gentile writer in the New Testament and it may be that this explains his interest and concern for the outsider and the care with which he records Christ’s dealings with all those who were in some way outside the community.Luke presents a picture of Christ and his teaching which has immediate appeal even on the human level alone. His gospel was primarily intended for Christians already familiar with the gospel teaching, but it also seeks to attract non-Christians. It was written in Greek and has an educated style. It emphasises that Jesus is the Saviour of all women and men and stresses the compassion of Jesus for the poor and the outcast. It has been called the gospel of social justice.
The Gospel of John.
The gospel of John shows a marked difference from the other three gospels. All four evangelists select their material to suit their purpose but this selection is most evident in John. John’s gospel was written in Greek about 90 AD and bears the characteristics of an old man’s reflections on past events, delving in to the deeper meaning. The purpose of this gospel is, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God…”Although John’s gospel carefully places events in correct chronological order it would be a mistake to think of it as straight reporting. With this gospel more than the others we have to read between the lines for the full meaning. This is one of the most inspirig parts of the New Testament and one of the best loved.This is partly due to the fact that it is a very personal statement of faith in Christ. John the evangelist knew how to transmit his love for Christ is obvious. The Church has always reverenced this as the work of John the Apostle, although the gospel as we have it would appear to be the work of his disciples who actually wrote down what John had taught and dictated.