Some questions about Gospels


#1

First time reading the Bible, I’ve started with the 4 Gospels and just finished Luke’s. Just a few questions because it was a lot to take in and I think a lot of it went over my head.

How come they know what happened during the birth of Jesus, etc and all the things they write down that they claim to have happened if they weren’t there to witness them?
Am I missing something here?

Also, were the Jews really that bad? I mean, they were just defending their religion, right? In their opinion, Jesus was a bad guy and a troublemaker. It just turned out, they were killing a God in human form, do they end up regretting it later, like the Roman soldier who says “Truly, he was the Son of God”? To the Jews, Jesus was this political and social radical but I dunno, maybe it’s just me but I don’t want to just think the Jews are evil for doing that because I’m pretty sure, that’s what Mel Gibson was thinking when he made The Passion film.


#2

Mary was there, and she knew the disciples.
All the apostles knew each other and had been together with Jesus for three years.
After Jesus died Mary went to live with John. See John 19 verse 27

25Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,here is your son,” 27and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

I hope that puts your mind at ease


#3

Yeah that makes sense, I suppose you can think of it like how historians, journalists and people like that today want to know EVERYTHING about a famous person’s life after they’ve died to write books about them and stuff, then there’s even those bibliography books.


#4

Well, there’d be some people out there who’d claim that the Evangelists (the gospel writers) just made all of that stuff up to fill in gaps of what they know about Jesus’ life, but you can’t dismiss the possibility that they had access to reliable sources and to oral tradition. If you believe that the gospels were indeed written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (the first and the last of which are actual disciples of Jesus) then there’s an extra guarantee of some degree of reliability.

Also, were the Jews really that bad? I mean, they were just defending their religion, right? In their opinion, Jesus was a bad guy and a troublemaker. It just turned out, they were killing a God in human form, do they end up regretting it later, like the Roman soldier who says “Truly, he was the Son of God”? To the Jews, Jesus was this political and social radical but I dunno, maybe it’s just me but I don’t want to just think the Jews are evil for doing that because I’m pretty sure, that’s what Mel Gibson was thinking when he made The Passion film.

If we’re discussing history here, you really have to take the gospel’s portrayal of “the Jews” with a grain of salt.

You mustn’t really read the gospels as if they were modern biographies or even modern novels. The gospels, while they do tell the life of Jesus, are written more with the purpose of convincing the non-believer that the Christian claims about Jesus are the truth and reassuring the believer that what he had been taught is correct. They’re not so much objective history books as works of apologetics.

Let’s just say that the gospels don’t have much in the way of character development: if you’ll read carefully, you’ll find that most of the personages who appear in the gospels are very flat. The gospel writers were more concerned about narrating the story, plain and simple, than they were about giving the characters believable motivations for their actions or probing deep within their thoughts, as modern authors tend to do today. A scholar named E.P. Sanders wrote:

The synoptic gospels lack most of the things that we now expect in the story of someone’s life. Looks, personality, character - we know very little. When it comes to the other figures besides Jesus, we are really in the dark. Pilate, curiously, is given touches of character by Matthew and John, but for the most part the other actors are very flat. Peter, we learn, was a little wishy-washy. What was John like? James? We do not know. What about the Pharisees? They appear in a group, denounce Jesus, sometimes are denounced in turn, and disappear. What were they up to? Were they all equally hostile towards Jesus? Where did they go when they disappeared? If they thought that Jesus’ disciples were breaking the sabbath law (Mark 2.24), why did they not lay a charge by reporting them to a priest (who might have fined them by requiring that each bring a sin offering, two birds, when next in Jerusalem)?

Many readers today do not realize how episodic the synoptic gospels are, since Christians have had almost 2000 years to build up a more novelistic view of the events and people in the gospels. Books have been written, movies made, explanations offered. On Sundays numerous priests, pastors and teachers retell some aspect of the gospel account, adding personality and motive. Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, is often depicted as a frustrated zealot who wanted Jesus to lead a revolution, who thought of himself as a great man in Jesus’ kingdom, and who was bitterly angry when he learned that Jesus wanted another sort of kingdom. This gives the story colour and drama. There is nothing in the gospels about Judas’ ambitions at all. Perhaps he realized that Jesus was a marked man and decided to get out when he still could, while also making a profit. One guess is as good as another. Similarly Mary Magdalene has appealed enormously to people who have imagined all sorts of romantic things about her: she had been a prostitute, she was beautiful, she was in love with Jesus, she fled to France carrying his child. For all we know, on the basis of our sources, she was eighty-six, childless, and keen to mother unkempt young men.

Another thing you must keep in mind is that the gospels were written in the context of Christianity finally starting to distinguish itself as a separate religion from Judaism.

Much of the first generations of Christians were Jews: the only thing that set them apart from other Jews is their belief in Jesus as the true Messiah who was unfortunately rejected by His nation but all the same vindicated by God. That is the point of contention between the Jews who believed in Jesus (= Christians) and those who didn’t.

As part of their argument, Christians basically adopted the language of the Old Testament prophets who called Israel out for its sins. They emphasized the Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus, coupled with a plea for Israel to repent and accept Jesus as the Messiah. So while historically, Jesus was crucified under Roman authority, Christians focused instead on how the other Jews rejected Jesus. They basically wanted their fellow Jews to see that they had been wrong, but that it’s not too late to change their minds. And that’s the reason why in the gospels, Jewish figures come off as being more antagonistic than say, Pontius Pilate. Unfortunately, time had obscured this original context, which led to all those nasty stuff perpetrated towards the Jewish people throughout history.


#5

Okay, I see your point about reading the Gospels like a novel, that makes total sense.
Also Jesus made it clear that he was going to be killed, even John the Baptist calls him the Lamb of God so in a way, Jesus was supposed to be killed by the Jews, they were just doing what was all part of God’s plan, right? If Jesus was that bothered, he could have laid low for a while and kept his head down!


#6

No do not read the gospels as a novel.

Patrick we don’t need to take E.P.Sanders as an authority for us as Catholics regarding Jesus, the gospels, or Jews.

" Sanders identifies himself as a “liberal, modern, secularized Protestant” in his book "Jesus and Judaism;"As Catholics, why should we have to take the word of a self-styled liberal, modern secularized Protestant.

Blood Angel, This is what the Catholic Church teaches regarding the Jews



From the Catechism of the Catholic Church

[vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p122a4p2.htm]("http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p122a4p2.htm")


Direct quote

 I. THE TRIAL OF JESUS

Divisions among the Jewish authorities concerning Jesus

595 Among the religious authorities of Jerusalem, not only were the Pharisee Nicodemus and the prominent Joseph of Arimathea both secret disciples of Jesus, but there was also long-standing dissension about him, so much so that St. John says of these authorities on the very eve of Christ's Passion, "many.. . believed in him", though very imperfectly.378 This is not surprising, if one recalls that on the day after Pentecost "a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" and "some believers. . . belonged to the party of the Pharisees", to the point that St. James could tell St. Paul, "How many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; and they are all zealous for the Law."379

596 The religious authorities in Jerusalem were not unanimous about what stance to take towards Jesus.380 The Pharisees threatened to excommunicate his followers.381 To those who feared that "everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation", the high priest Caiaphas replied by prophesying: "It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish."382 The Sanhedrin, having declared Jesus deserving of death as a blasphemer but having lost the right to put anyone to death, hands him over to the Romans, accusing him of political revolt, a charge that puts him in the same category as Barabbas who had been accused of sedition.383 The chief priests also threatened Pilate politically so that he would condemn Jesus to death.384

Jews are not collectively responsible for Jesus' death

597 The historical complexity of Jesus' trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts. The personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) is known to God alone. Hence we cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole, despite the outcry of a manipulated crowd and the global reproaches contained in the apostles' calls to conversion after Pentecost.385 Jesus himself, in forgiving them on the cross, and Peter in following suit, both accept "the ignorance" of the Jews of Jerusalem and even of their leaders.386 Still less can we extend responsibility to other Jews of different times and places, based merely on the crowd's cry: "His blood be on us and on our children!", a formula for ratifying a judicial sentence.387 As the Church declared at the Second Vatican Council:

    . . . [N]either all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion. . . [T]he Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy Scripture.388

All sinners were the authors of Christ's Passion

598 In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that "sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured."389 Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself,390 the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone:

    We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt. And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews. As for them, according to the witness of the Apostle, "None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." We, however, profess to know him. And when we deny him by our deeds, we in some way seem to lay violent hands on him.391

#7

Blood Angel, the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding Sacred Scripture, the Bible

vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s1c2a3.htm1.

You may find it helpful to read and contemplate all that is written regarding sacred scripture, the bible, but also not
The life and teaching of Jesus.

The Church holds firmly that the four Gospels,
"whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up."99

Do not read it as a novel but as the Catholic Catechism teaches us

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."69

The senses of Scripture

115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."83

117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

  1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.84
  2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.85
  3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.86 "

I. INSPIRATION AND TRUTH OF SACRED SCRIPTURE

105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."69

"For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself."70

106 God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. "To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more."71

107 The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures."72

108 Still, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living”.73 If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, "open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures."74


#8

Also, Luke was a disciple of Paul and received much of his information from him, who was obviously around the Apostles a lot, and from the Gospel of Mark (the first Gospel to be written). Mark was a disciple od Peter, so he must have gotten his information from him. Then, Matthew and John were actually two of Our Lord’s Apostles and most of their info was firsthand experience.

Mary most likely told the Apostles stuff about the birth of Jesus. Jesus Himself could have even told them about it: obviously, being fully divine along with His fully human nature, He could have recounted for Himself the events of His Nativity.

So, I hope this helps. May God bless you on your journey to the Catholic faith!


#9

When the Gospel where written they would ask about the stories of Jesus and they had their own personal experience with him. They could also ask Mary as she was around them. The Jews where not evil it was just a few selective Jews that actually plotted Jesus’s death


#10

I’ll only add this: There is a phrase in there: “Mary kept all these things in her heart”, which indicates the source: Mary. Other than that, it seems others have answered this quite well.


#11

With Luke, it is important to keep track of Jesus’ audience. Sometimes He speaks to the people and then addresses the Disciples as to the import of what He was saying. There is also a distinction between the religious leadership and the bulk of the Jews. The great irony is that those who were supposed to be looking for the Messiah did not see Him, while the ordinary people accepted Him.

Keep digging and asking questions. It will make more sense the more you look at it. Keep us posted.


#12

Just because he is of a different denomination doesn’t mean Sanders cannot point out something that is correct. Did you read the quote I provided? That’s just a simple academic observation by Sanders on the episodic nature of the gospels - and I believe that he got that one right. (As much as I like Ed Sanders, I’m not a total fanboy of his of course - I have my own disagreements with him.) Everything else was just my opinion.


closed #13

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