The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are an interesting and (possibly) unique form of literature. Part history, part storytelling, and part theological teaching, they present on the surface as being one thing and yet, in reality, they are so much more. Initially, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) can read as an account of the life of Jesus Christ. However, even the briefest investigation sets us wondering: why are the Gospels so different from one another? If they are all about the same thing, and purporting to be eyewitness accounts, why do they each have their particular emphasis and ways of presenting things?
It is because each account reflects a particular theological perspective and, as such, has its unique contribution to make. The fact that the Church ultimately decided that these (and only these) four Gospels would make it into the canon of Scripture is reflective of the fact that they each, in their way, accurately express and reveal the faith of the Church. All debates around when they were written, who actually wrote them, and for what purpose they were written are secondary to their primary purpose – to provide an insight into the person of Jesus Christ and what it was that God is seeking to achieve in and through him.
It is even more involved with the Gospel according to John. It is unique among the Gospels as an extended theological reflection on the divinity of Jesus Christ. When it comes to expressing the divine, human words and concepts too quickly fail under the strain. The best we can do is resort to imagery, allegorical language and signs, all serving to point the seeker in the right direction. Once we understand that this is what the writer of this Gospel is doing, we might find ourselves agreeing that perhaps there was no other approach he could take. As the biblical scholar, Justin Taylor observes:
“St John is traditionally called ‘the Theologian.’ He soars to the heights, like the eagle which is his emblem. He shows us Jesus as the Word of God made flesh who has come into the world to continue the work of his Father and bring us life and light…powerful symbols from the Old Testament – bread, water, the lamb, the vine, the temple, the shepherd – show that in Jesus God has kept his word once given to Israel (“As It Was Written”, Eugene, OR, Paulist Press, 2007: pp 125 – 126).
Original text by Shane Dwyer
Photo of Hands on Bible by Patrick Fore on Unsplash
Fr Anthony Mellor, 30 October 2019
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane, 30 October 2019
30 October 2019