Hi, I’m Jonathan, and I’m glad you’ve chosen to read my first blog.
I’ve named my blog Things Every Christian Should Know because as a pastor I’ve been asking myself lately, “What should I expect the people in my congregation to know as followers of Jesus?”
My concern is that we are living in a “Christian culture” that is becoming increasingly biblically illiterate. Therefore, I feel called to help Christians grow in their knowledge of Holy Scripture and the Christian faith. I’m not so sure that writing a blog is the solution…but I’m going to give it a try.
Although I am a bona fide Bible nerd and could go on and on about trivial details, I’ve resolved to keep each post relatively short and simple because I want what I share to be enjoyable and memorable. So…here we go.
The Gospels and the Resurrection
Since we’ve just celebrated Easter, I’m going to spend the next few weeks writing about the resurrection. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments.
Resurrection is kind of the hinge of Christianity…without it our faith simply crumbles. But living in the western hemisphere, our culture is less likely to accept the veracity of miraculous claims. So, when we start having conversations with our friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc, it’s important for us to be able to have intelligent, informed conversations that don’t end with shouting and telling someone they are going to hell because they disagree with us.
So what should every Christian know about the resurrection?
Well, for starters…
Often it is claimed that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are not trustworthy because they were written several decades after the life and ministry of Jesus. For instance, the majority of biblical scholars and historians agree that Mark, the earliest Gospel, was written around 70 A.D. If that is true, then the earliest narrative about Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t written until about 40 years after the events allegedly took place.
Here’s the kicker.
85-90% of the people living in the ancient world were illiterate…which means that texts were not the primary way to communicate and publish information; rather, information was commonly transmitted by trained orators.
Another important detail is that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus would return within their lifetime. It wasn’t until the first few generations of Christians died that the Gospels were written and preserved in text. After realizing that Jesus’ return might not be as soon as they expected, Christians wanted to preserve the life, teaching, and ministry of Jesus for future generations in a more codified format; and that’s when the Gospels were written.
However, the Gospels existed as “oral documents” prior to 70 A.D. Orators and leaders who knew the Gospel tradition memorized and preserved the narratives in highly controlled environments. Sometimes it is difficult for those of us living in textually driven cultures to appreciate the ability of an oral culture to memorize, preserve, and transmit information accurately, but their brains were trained to think quite differently than the way we are trained to remember things in a textually driven culture.
For instance, we make grocery lists because we don’t HAVE to remember everything we want or need to get at the store. In the ancient world, the primary educational model was built around memorization and retention of information rather than taking notes and having volume after volume of reference material available.
Aside from illiteracy and the inability to write, writing supplies and the cost of publication was astronomical. Therefore, it didn’t make sense for the early Church to write Gospels within the first few decades of Christianity.
The Gospel traditions that we have in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John come from the earliest followers of Jesus, who witnessed his death and claimed to see appearances of the resurrected Jesus after his crucifixion. Although the authors of the Gospels were not eyewitnesses, the traditions are based on eyewitness testimony. These followers passed the information on through preaching and teaching–the way that made the most sense in first century culture.
If you are interested in learning about the historical documents claiming Jesus’ death and resurrection that pre-date Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, I invite you to join me for my next blog. Until then, I encourage you to go to a Bible study, small group or Sunday school class and talk with other Christians about Holy Scripture.
Grace and Peace,