The Gospels


            The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are their own category of literature.  They contain teaching sections (“discourses”) and historical sections (“narratives”).  They are not the same as a biography (as they focus on the ministry of Jesus, not his complete life) and they are not the same as a history (as they focus on the overall message, rather than on chronology and events only).

            They are four witnesses to the life and teaching of Jesus, to present him as the Savior to be received by faith.


                            —————————————->>>> Gospel


    They are divided into two groups. 

  • The Synoptic Gospels (the word means “see together”) share many of the same events and words.  There is a long standing debate about which gospel preceded which and what other sources were used.  Luke speaks of using sources (Luke 1:1-4). 

  • The Fourth Gospel, John, is an independent witness containing much that is not in the other three. 

                        Matthew, Mark and Luke             =   the Synoptic Gospels

                        John                                                = the Fourth Gospel 


 Each gospel gives an account of the historical Jesus, and yet each is addressed to different readers.  This is how Fee and Stewart summarize the theme of each Gospel.

  •             Matthew – Jesus is the King

                        Key Verses: Matthew 1:1, 28:18-20

                        Jewish emphasis

  •             Mark – Jesus is the Servant

                        Key Verses – Mark 1:1, 8:29, 10:45

                        Roman emphasis

  •             Luke – Jesus as the Son of Man

                        Key Verse – Luke 19:10

                        Gentile emphasis

  •             John – Jesus is the Son of God

                        Key Verses:  John 20:30-31

                        World emphasis

            The writing of the Gospels was a process.  Jesus lived on the earth.  Witnesses and “ministers of the word” told his story by word of mouth.  About 30 years later the first Gospel was written.  The remaining three Gospels were recorded later.  The later authors may have had access to the former writers.

Is it a problem that the wording varies from Gospel to Gospel?

            The actual wording of the Gospels, even when they record Jesus’ teachings will vary.  There are two reasons:

  •  They are summaries.  Any reporter will have to record a summary of the main points of a speech or an event.  They can not record every detail.  So there will be differences in what is selected to be included.

  • They are translations from Aramaic, the language of Jesus, to Greek, the language of the first churches.  There is often more than one way to translate from one language to another. (e.g.  “Forgive us our sins”.   The word “sins” can be accurately translated by the words “sins”, “debts” or “trespasses”.  The may reflect different Aramaic or Greek words used for sin.)

Is it a problem that the Gospels are not strictly chronological?    

            In reading you may discover that events are arranged in a different order in one gospel than in another.  For example the material in Matthew 10 is gathered into one location, but the same content is spread throughout Luke.

            The Gospels are not meant to be Chronologies.  The emphasis is on the message.  The Gospel writers felt free to arrange teaching and events to highlight the points they are making.  Gospels are not histories or biographies, written by modern standards.  They are presentations of the life and teaching of Jesus.

            Also, sometimes a translation will use a word like “then” or “later” which may not accurately reflect the Greek text, which may simply be a word like “and”.

What is the best way to read the Gospels?

            Side by Side.  Many people like to read through the life of Jesus by comparing the Gospel accounts side by side.  You can find books and computer programs that lay out the four books in this format.  The comparison helps us draw out all the details and to develop a chronology of the Life of Jesus.

            Each Gospel as a Unit.  Since each Gospel is a literary unit, and has its own emphasis, it is important to read each gospel alone.  If you only read side by side, you will miss some of the themes of particular authors.  For example, Mark depicts Jesus’ actions (often with the most narrative detail), while Matthew is structured around the teachings of Jesus  Luke pays attention to Jesus’ humanity and issues of wealth and poverty, while John presents Jesus divinity with an emphasis on eternal life.

            The answer is to do both.  I prefer to study the Gospels individually before comparing them.  But as long as you remember the literary quality of the text when you compare them side by side, you are doing well.

What is a pericope?

            The Gospels were told before they were written.  Each event in Jesus life and each section of teaching forms a section, sometimes called a “pericope”.  This Greek word refers to each literary unit.  The importance is that the immediate context for interpreting a verse is the story or event in which that verse is found.  John 3:16 is found in the section John 3:1-21 and it should be read together with its pericope.


            Compare these Discourses:   Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-23

            Compare these Events:  Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26         

Wisdom Literature

             The term “Wisdom Literature” refers to the biblical books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and some add The Song of Solomon.  Some parts of the Psalms are also included.

            The LAW is the expression of God’s covenant with his people.  The PROPHETS call God’s people back to faithfulness to God.  The HISTORICAL Books recorded how God’s people did when they obeyed or disobeyed God’s commands.

Wisdom Literature

  • Makes much use of poetic language.  Expect to see parallelism, vivid words, examples from life, metaphors, comparisons and contrasts.  In addition, Hebrew is a language given to “word play”, which may not always translate into English.

  • Uses international language and examples.  The prophets were primarily focused on calling the people of God back to the ways of God, which the people already knew.  Wisdom literature calls all people to come to see the Wisdom of God and of his ways. 

  •  Wisdom Literature, especially the Proverbs, borrows from the sayings and literature of other nations and cultures.  This is not a problem, because it shows that all people can find at least part of the Wisdom by which God created the Universe – Proverbs 3:19-20, Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:10.  The difference is that the Bible places wisdom in the context of faith in God – Proverbs 1:7

  • Wisdom can de defined as the ability to make good choices in life.  It is not about intelligence so much as willingness to seek out God’s ways and follow them.

Guidelines for reading Proverbs:    

  1. They are parabolic – using figurative language to point beyond themselves.

  2. They are more practical than theoretical

  3. They are worded to be memorable rather than technically accurate.

  4. They should not be used to support selfish behavior.

  5. Proverbs that come from another culture may need to be translated with care into our culture.

  6. They are not absolute guarantees, but guidelines for good behavior.

  7. They may use literary techniques, including exaggeration to make a point.

  8. They are not exhaustive in their coverage of a topic.

  9. Wrongly used, they can be used to justify a materialistic lifestyle.  Rightly used, they will provide practical advice based on faith in God.

                                    See: Proverbs 22:26-27; 29:12; 15:25

Summary of Wisdom Books:

            Ecclesiastes is a puzzling book that must be read as a whole.  It is a wisdom monologue by “The Teacher”.  Most of the book, except for the final few verses, presents a picture of what life would be like if there were no God, and if there is no life after death.  The advice of 12:3 points the reader to the rest of Scripture.

            Job contains false advice!  If you do not read the book as a whole, you will not get the point that much of the advice of Job’s friends is flawed.  This is a not a denial of the truth of the Bible.  It truthfully contains the false wisdom of the world, and then presents a contrast.  It is false to say that bad things happen only to bad people.  There is mystery in the universe (to us, not to God) and we need to trust in God.

          Proverbs is a collection of sayings.  What Proverbs does say is that, all things being equal, there are basic attitudes and patters of behavior that will help a person grow into responsible adulthood.  Watch for contrasts (good vs. evil) and reoccurring characters (the fool, the simpleton, etc). Proverbs 1:7 should be kept in mind when reading any of the book.

            Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs) is a lengthy love song.  It is best not to read it as an allegory (though many do) but as a celebration of physical love in a committed marriage relationship.  It affirms the goodness of sexuality, but also affirms its proper context.   


            Here is a listing of some topics covered in Proverbs and some of the verses on that subject.  Read one category of proverbs, and then write your own proverb.

            Anger: 6:34; 14:17; 15:1; 15:18; 16:14:19:11; 29:8-11

            Discipline:3:11,12; 12:1; 13:18; 15:10; 15:31-32; 19:20; 19:27; 29:1

            The Fool: 1:7; 1:32; 8:5,6; 10:10; 10:18; 16:22; 17:12; 17:28; 26:1-12

            The Heart: 2:2; 3:1-3; 4:20-23; 6:16-19; 12:20; 14:13,14; 15:17;17:3

            Kindness: 3:3,4; 14:22; 16:6; 31:26

            Laziness: 6:6-11; 10:26; 12:24; 13:4; 15:19; 20:4; 22:13; 24:30-34

            The Poor: 3:24; 1015; 14:31; 16:19; 17:5; 19:1; 19:17; 21:17; 22:2

            Wealth: 3:9,10; 3:13-16; 10:2; 11:28; 13:11; 13:21,22; 14:23,24; 20:14; 23:4,5

            My Proverb:

Bible Dictionary

We had a good question this week.  “What is a Bible Dictionary?”  FRESH READ, always ready, will try to answer.  And we will start a new category of posts called  Tools.   In these articles we will discuss over time such tools as concordances, dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, commentaries, introductions and so forth.

 A Bible Dictionary is usually a one volume resource.  It is arranged alphabetically.  Short and long articles can be found by simply looking up a word.  The articles range from definitions of terms, identities of people, outlines of biblical books, locations of places and significance of ideas.

FRESH READ has used “The New Bible Dictionary” for a number of years.  It is helpful and quick to get an answer to a question or to get some background.

The term “Zion” came in in a recent text.  when I looked up “Zion” in the NBD, it referred me to an article on Jerusalem.  This six page article has three maps of the city under different time periods.  I was able to find that Zion refers to Jerusalem, sometimes as the historic city, sometimes is a larger and more spiritual context.  The article is arranged under these headings

  • Introduction and General Description
  • Name
  • History
  • Growth and Extent

Another passage referred to a unit of money, called denarius.  Under the article called “Money”, the denarius is defined a unit of money in the Roman system, which in New Testament times was the equivalent of a day’s wage for a laborer.  There are charts indicating the relative value of different coins and there are pictures of some coins.

Psalm 87 refers to Rahab.  There are two articles, one refers to a woman who figures in the book of Joshua.  However, the second article indicates that this name has another meaning, based on it’s meaning in Hebrew (“pride”).  This name came to be attached to Egypt as a nick-name.  So in Psalm 87, “Rahab” refers to the nation Egypt.  The significance in Psalm 87 is that salvation can also come to some of the enemies of Israel – Babylonia, Philisitia and Egypt were all enemies at one time, but out of them are those who are “born in Zion.”

You can find several dictionaries of various sizes.  There are specialized volumes such as “The Dictionary of NT Background“, “The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels” and “The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery“.  Check the publisher and the introduction to see the background and biases of the particular dictionary.  “The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology” will, for example, present an “Evangelical” perspective.

Fresh Read recommends the New Bible Dictionary and the multi-volume editions produced by IVP such as “Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels” etc.  (see Christian Book Distributors ( and Amazon as well as your local book stores will have these available.

Several sites offer on-line use of dictionaries.  Be aware that these free resources are dated, and may not have the most recent results of biblical scholarship.


The Psalms

 The Psalms have been a favorite book of the Bible for a long time. It is because the Psalms express in poetic language every kind of feeling and express every kind of prayer. They have been important:

  • To learn how to express ourselves to God.
  • To help us think about God and his ways.

Here are some things to remember when reading the Psalms

1. Psalms are Poetic, which means that they address the mind through the heart. It is important to treat them as poetry – a literalistic reading can cause silly conclusions. (Should we send tape recorders into space because of Psalm 19:1?) :

The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

2. Psalms are Musical – the ascriptions are added to indicate melodies. The term “selah” probably refers to a musical interlude. (e.g. Ps 89)

3. Psalms are Metaphorical – So it is important to take care to see what was intended by the psalm, not to make it mean whatever you might want it to mean. (Psalm 23:2 is about God’s care for us, it is not an argument for living in the country.)

4. The Psalms are arranged in 5 books. (1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150). It is not clear why, though it is traditional to think of these corresponding to the 5 books of Moses. Psalm 1 introduces the whole book. Psalm 146-150 are a review of the previous psalms – they contain “the best of” what came in 1-145.

5. Psalms come in types. Each type of psalm has its own subject matter and usually follows a form. (E.g. Lament, Thanksgiving, Praise, Salvation History, Celebration, Wisdom and Trust.).

6. For the most part, each Psalm is its own literary unit. There are some sub-collections (e.g. 120-134), but mostly each Psalm should be read individually.

7. Psalms should first be read for how they fit into Old Testament history. Then we can see a New Testament application. Some NT applications are clear (Ps. 22) and others are suggested (Ps. 110).

Types of Psalms

Laments. There are 60 of these, some are individual and some are for the nation. Laments express the struggles people had and how they expressed their concerns to God. (E.g. Ps 3 – individual; Ps 12 – national)

Thanksgiving. These express joy to the Lord because something ahs gone well. There are 6 community and 10 individual psalms in this group. (E.g. Ps 67 and 30)

Hymns of Praise. A “hymn” is neither a song nor a type of song; it is an expression of praise to God for who he is and what he has done. (E.g. Ps 8, 100)

Salvation History. These re-tell what God has done among the people of Israel. (E.g. Ps 105, 106)

Celebration and Affirmation. These might speak of God’s covenant (Ps. 89), the King (Ps. 2), the King’s enthronement (Ps 95) or Zion (Ps. 48).

Wisdom. These compare to the book of Proverbs and celebrate the value of wisdom. (E.g. Ps 73)

Trust. These remind us that God is to be trusted even in difficult times.

Practice: Psalm 138 is a Thanksgiving Psalm. These usually have 5 parts. See if you can identify these parts in Psalm 138:






Psalm 3 is a Lament, which usually has 6 parts:







Look at the index to either a Hymn Book or a Contemporary Praise Song collection, and look at how many references there are to the Psalms.  Pick a Hymn or Chorus and try to see how closely the writer stayed to the Psalm.