Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Describing The Incomprehensible

If you order your cheap custom paper from our custom writing service you will receive a perfectly written assignment on Describing The Incomprehensible. What we need from you is to provide us with your detailed paper instructions for our experienced writers to follow all of your specific writing requirements. Specify your order details, state the exact number of pages required and our custom writing professionals will deliver the best quality Describing The Incomprehensible paper right on time.

Out staff of freelance writers includes over 120 experts proficient in Describing The Incomprehensible, therefore you can rest assured that your assignment will be handled by only top rated specialists. Order your Describing The Incomprehensible paper at affordable prices with cheap custom writing service!

A response to the suggested Essay topic “Is it a problem for the church that we have four gospels rather than one? Illustrate your answer from at least two gospels.”

Unless otherwise stated, Biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Describing The Incomprehensible

We may not know, we cannot tell . . . but we believe

Help with essay on Describing The Incomprehensible

essay writing service

For the simple believer, having four gospels rather than one is a continuing delight and joy. Each sheds a new and different light on Christ’s life, teaching, passion and resurrection; we hunger for more, not less. We know that God made man cannot be fully described, let alone fully comprehended, in one, two, three or four short ‘books’ � “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” , as evidenced by the continuing flood of new attempts to explain and interpret the scriptures that continue to flow from authors and preachers, adding to two thousand years’ worth of such material. To the sceptic, however, the presence of four gospels presents an equally endless opportunity to question belief, from the very general - why four, not three or five - to the detailed - why does some material in one gospel flatly contradict material in another?

Having four versions of Christ’s life, teaching, death and resurrection presents a challenge to Christians and an opportunity for sniping by non-believers. There are indeed significant differences among the four accounts, including apparent contradictions. Does this mean one account is true, the other false? How can we know what is true and what is false? Also, since these are not the only texts of their general period that purport to tell ‘the Jesus story’, the question may quite legitimately be asked, “Why four � why not three, or five, or more - and why this particular four?”

This essay examines some of the issues arising from the inclusion of four (and only four) gospels in the New Testament in the light of questions that might reasonably be posed by an “earnest enquirer” � one who is perhaps attracted by the Christian faith, wants to learn more and seeks to test what he or she is being told. It concludes that yes, having four accounts of the gospel has been and can still be a problem for the church, but not in the end a problem for faith.

The irreconcilable dilemma

There was only one catch and that was Catch- . . . If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Joseph Heller, Catch (161)

One way to approach these issues is by a relatively simple answer ‘from faith’, which can be offered in response to a non-Christian challenge, to fundamentalist assertions based on isolated texts and to questioning and to doubt on the part of Christian adherents or potential converts God doesn’t communicate his truth to mankind by using the Bible’s authors as dictating machines or shorthand typists, but through stories and lessons told and written down by fallible humans, striving to communicate transcendent concepts through the inadequate medium of human language. One account from one perspective by one fallible reporter is simply not enough to explain Jesus. ‘Four and only four’ results from judgements by later fallible people, striving to discern what was most clearly ‘true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report’ from among a much wider range of texts that purported to be accounts of Christ. In recognising our four gospels we believe that the original writers, those who selected the gospels, and the later translators of the texts were all inspired and assisted in their work by the Holy Spirit. This answer implies that we too share the grace of our personal knowledge of God through Christ and can apply this grace to understand and interpret the scriptures with the help of the Holy Spirit.

A second approach places less reliance on personal faith and direct personal understanding. Instead it seeks to understand the scriptures and their role in the light of painstaking research, investigating and analysing any and every aspect of how they were written, by whom, with what purposes in mind, for what audiences, in what contemporary and historic context and affected by what influences. This approach also seeks to assess the likely validity of both the canonical texts and other accounts and the process of their selection. Research and conjecture of this general kind has gone on almost since the original texts were written, but the last one hundred years or so has seen an explosion in the range of research methods, alternative philosophies of approach, and debate among and between both general theologians and an increasing variety of specialist researchers. It seems certain to continue to attract research indefinitely, and the research seems certain to continue generating controversy. It is fuelled from time to time by new evidence such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, a library of over 800 papyrus and parchment texts, discovered in the Judean desert between 147 and the late 150s. From historical, literary and other scientific standpoints, such research is endlessly fascinating. From the standpoint of faith, it can shed new light on how and why our four gospels were written and later selected. It can help our understanding of the gospels by providing insights into the worlds of their writers, reasons for the different approaches and purposes of each writer, and so forth. It can seek to explain in prosaic terms ‘Why four and only four?’. But ultimately there is a Catch the ‘truth’ of the Christian message cannot be proved or disproved by human methods. The words may be the same, but the reader ‘from faith’ sees one meaning, while the reader ‘from unbelief’ will always be able to suggest another.

Why only four gospels � aren’t there others?

God is invisible, though he is seen; incomprehensible, though manifested by grace; inconceivable, though conceived by human senses. (Tertullian, AD17, 171)

Tertullian’s early insight into the dilemma of the Bible as “the true and lively word” of God, but written by humans to whom God has given both intelligence and independence of will, neatly encapsulates the difficulties faced by all who have written about God’s engagement with humankind, from the unknowns who first captured the earliest stories about the creation and Israel’s forefathers, through the evangelists whose accounts of Christ form our gospels, right up to all of us today who strive to bring the knowledge and love of Christ to people at the beginning of the twenty-first century, whether through learned dissertations or in plain language from the pulpit. Issues surrounding the multiplicity of biblical texts, with consequent disputation as to which texts are to be held as authoritative, pre-date the writing of the gospels and are not unique to the Christian church. Clarke Kee et al. (17, p568) note that

By the beginning of the Common Era there was a partial consensus among the Jews as to which books in the [Old Testament] biblical tradition were to be considered authoritative.

The Christian church’s concern to establish an authoritative and agreed acount of ‘the Jesus story’ can be traced back to the very earliest period of the faith’s spread following Christ’s death and resurrection. St Paul’s letters , written within a few years of Christ’s death and resurrection, include passages clearly aimed at resolving disputes among early Christians, repudiating false teaching and reinforcing a common understanding of God through Christ.

Paul himself felt no need of any third party witnesses, let alone written texts, to support his confidence in spelling out what was right and wrong about Jesus’ identity, role and message; he relied on his personal revelation of the risen Christ and his direct engagement with those who had known Christ before the crucifixion. Later church leadership could rely for only a limited time on the spoken evidence of those who had heard the gospel directly from the original apostles, and soon began to look to established written texts as part of their authority for the guidance they offered. The earliest known complete list reflecting the New Testament writings as we know them today is an Easter Letter of Athanasius in the fourth century, but as early as the second century church leaders (called by later scholars “the Apostolic Fathers”) had started to make reference to existing documents in support of what they wrote about church leadership, authority, doctrine and worship. The letters of Ignatius quote extensively from existing texts, very clearly relying on them as authorities.

As the church grew larger and more widely dispersed, with different Christian communities set in a range of differing local cultures, practices and beliefs, the desire � indeed the imperative - arose to form a commonly agreed basis for Christian beliefs and practices. This meant including some existing texts as the “bedrock” and � by implication - excluding others. Athanasius’ list includes other ‘non-canonical’ works, some of which have since been rediscovered. Mayotte (17) cites nineteen distinct works from which he draws “all the sayings of Jesus gathered from ancient sources” � nineteen that is, in addition to the four gospels and the Book of Revelation. There are indeed other “gospels”. Why only four? Because these are the books deemed by the church � at a time relatively close to the period in which all gospel-like works were written � to be authoritatively based in the direct experience of the apostles.

Why this particular four?

The acceptance of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the gospels was not without dissent! Indeed, ‘problems for the church’ were among the main factors that motivated and drove the process of fixing a particular set of writings that became the New Testament. The term ‘authority’ has a critical role in both the early process of identifying those texts that came to be regarded as valid accounts of Christ and the later process of formalising their selection. Authority in this context accumulates around a text based on several factors. First and foremost comes the authority of the writer � the gospels were believed to have been written by men who either knew Christ personally or learned about him directly from those who did, which latter group includes Paul; though Paul had not met Jesus before the Crucifixion his conversion experience took the form of a personal encounter with the risen Christ. The second way authority accumulated around a text was the extent to which it was used as a reference point by early leaders of the church. Extant letters of Ignatius quote many passages from the texts now known as Matthew and Luke (though he doesn’t name his sources); Polycarp cites passages from Matthew, Mark and Luke. Both Ignatius and Polycarp use terms and constructs that closely reflect the text of John. However, controversy soon arose. In 144, at Rome, one Marcion was excommunicated. He had his own ideas about both New and Old Testament writings; the Old Testament he declared to have been invalidated by Christ, citing sayings of Jesus that appear to contradict passages of the Jewish scriptures. He also rejected many Christian texts, including most if not all of Matthew, Mark and John; what he didn’t reject he edited to suit his own beliefs about Jesus, seeking to establish “one true gospel”. Marcion was an early literalist ; for example he used as a primary authority Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians

if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed (Galatians 110)

By Marcion’s logic, if ‘any other gospel’ is false, then there must be only one gospel that is true. By this time the four gospels were already accepted by other church leaders as authentic accounts. Marcion’s antics accelerated the process of formalising beliefs about what was and what was not canonical.

Why not one gospel?

The sceptic asks “If God exists and is all-powerful, and if the Bible is the word of God, why does he hide himself behind a set of texts that is so confusing and inconsistent that people still find it necessary to produce new interpretations and explanations - why not one straightforward text?”. We have seen how some in the early church wanted to have just one written text. Again we can approach the answer in two ways. First, the answer from faith is that the very nature of God defies simple, direct explanation in ordinary human terms. God is by definition ‘other’; outside and beyond our earthly human experience and understanding. As St Paul puts it

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.. (1 Corinthians, 11)

And this from one who believed that he had met the resurrected Christ in person! From this perspective, the four gospels have been likened to four portraits. Each is an honest and faithful attempt to capture the truth about the individual portrayed; each tells a different story, capturing different aspects of the person’s life and character. In each we can see that it’s the same person, but from each we learn different things about him.

The investigative answer to the same question looks at the motives of each gospel author, their innate literary styles and the audiences to whom their work was initially directed. It also looks at the extent to which one author is thought to have known and drawn on the work of another in constructing his own account. This is a complex matter and still a subject of dispute and controversy among scholars, but a widely accepted conclusion is well summarised by Stanton (00) p18

Today it is generally agreed that neither Matthew nor John was written by an apostle. And Mark and Luke may not have been associated of the apostles. But modern historical study does provide a conclusion of some importance. While some early (and perhaps authentic) traditions about the life and teaching of Jesus may have found their way into later Christian writings, the four New Testament gospels were written earlier than any of the other ‘gospels’.


[W]hen the four gospels are set alongside all the other ‘gospels’ and related writings which flourished for a time in some circles of the early church, it is the similarities of the four rather than their differences which are striking. (ibid).

Stanton goes on to discuss aspects of consistency among the four gospels supporting the view that indeed ‘the four are all witnesses to the one gospel’.

How about the inconsistencies?

The challenge that is perhaps easiest for the sceptic to mount is against inconsistencies among the gospels and even within an individual gospel. If this is the word of God why do we have clearly contradictory accounts? For example, all four Gospels have the story of Jesus being anointed by a woman Matthew (66-1) and Mark (14-11) have this after the entry into Jerusalem, but John (11-) places it before, while Luke has it long before the arrival in Jerusalem during the early ministry (Luke 76-50). Whilst Luke has the woman anointing Jesus feet as does John, Matthew and Mark have the woman anointing Jesus head. And there is divergence about Jesus’ teaching. In Matthew, Jesus instructed his disciples not to go anywhere near Gentiles or Samaritans, but Luke contradicts this by saying that Jesus wanted to enter Samaria. but was prevented from doing so by the inhabitants (5-5); also in Luke, Jesus heals a Samaritan (1711-16), and Jesus mission to the Samaritans, which is precluded in Matthew, goes even further in John when Jesus goes into Samaria and many are converted there (44,5,-4). Even within one gospel we can find inconsistencies

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works (Matthew 516)

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them (Matthew 61)

The two instructions appear to be mutually contradictory. The Christian does of course have an explanation. Christ focuses on our motivation rather than on the nature of our deeds. We are to let our light shine, as explained in the rest of the first sentence, so as to “give glory to your Father in heaven”, but not (as in the second) “in order to be seen” by others � in other words for our own self-glorification. Today’s psychologist would confirm that the nature of the motive changes the nature of the act. This rather neatly illustrates the way in which biblical quotations (in this case part-quotations), taken out of context can be seriously misinterpreted. Equally, the inconsistencies of the way stories are told in different gospels, and differences in the sequence and timing of events, are explained by the fact that each gospel author had a different purpose in mind, and a different audience, together with the fact that biographical texts of the time focused less on ‘getting the facts right’ than on telling the tale in a way that illuminates important aspects of the subject’s life and character. So the differences can be explained as ‘choices about how to tell the story’ rather than as contradictions.

Modern Attacks � a hindrance or a help?

With the arrival of the third millennium, the time has come to face the stunning realization that for the last 100 years, Christianity has revered a founder and icon of the faith who probably never existed. (Publisher’s blurb for Doherty, 1)

In modern times attacks on the validity of Christian belief has become somewhat fashionable. In books ranging from the overtly atheist (Doherty 1 above) through the debunking (Graham 174) to the more sympathetic (Wilson 1) it has become easy to find texts attacking the veracity of the gospels

The story of the baby being born in a stable at Bethlehem . . . is one of the most powerful myths ever given to the human race. A myth, however, is what it is.(Wilson 1)

Bridge (16) summarises the nature of such attacks

[The gospels] are not reliable . . . composed long after the events . . . by writers strongly biased in his favour . . . tell us a lot about the beliefs of Christians seventy years later, but very little about the ‘real Jesus’.

Of course, this has also led to a flood of apologetics, both in print and (very widely) on the Internet. For the believer � or sceptic - who cares to look, there is a wealth of material supporting the conclusion that Jesus did exist and that the four gospels provide a reliable account of important truths about his life, death and resurrection. Indeed in some respects the attacks may be healthy for Christian belief, causing us to think more deeply and provoking research that on balance provides increasing evidence for at least the ‘historical facts’ about Christ. But there is a continuing challenge to faith, in that while a ‘rational’ attack can be mounted with quite direct and simple statements, the defence ‘from reason’ will usually be complex � and not known by most non-academic Christians. In the end, the Church and all Christians comes back to acceptance of mystery and reliance on faith. This balance between reason and faith has been rather neatly summed up by BBC television journalist Mark Tully in the conclusion to his book An Investigation Into The Lives Of Jesus (16)

. . . whatever happened after Jesus died, the Resurrection was a sufficiently powerful event to inspire an answer to the universal mysteries of suffering and death. It is an answer which has proved meaningful to many ever since. I at least have never found an answer to those mysteries in science, or indeed history.

1. KJV = King James’ Version of the Holy Bible

. Tertullian, Apology (A.D. 17), (Various translations, eg Thelwall, found at http//www.ccel.org)

. Clarke, Kee et al. Cambridge Companion to The Bible, CUP 17

4. Mayotte, R.A., The Complete Jesus, Steerforth Press 17

5. Voorwinde, S The Formation Of The New Testament Canon (at http//www.pastornet.net.au/rtc/canon.htm)

6. Burridge, Richard A, Four Gospels, One Jesus?, SPCK 14

7. Burridge, Richard A, What are the Gospels? A comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography, CUP 1

8. Stanton, Graham, The Gospels and Jesus, nd edition, OUP 00

. Wilson, A.N., Jesus, Harper Collins 1

10. Bridge, Donald, Why Four Gospels?, Mentor, 16

11. Doherty, E, The Jesus Puzzle - Did Christianity begin with a mythical Christ, Canadian Humanist Publications, 1

1. Tully, Mark, An Investigation Into The Lives of Jesus, BBC Books, 16

Other sources

For the Dead Sea Scrolls http//orion.mscc.huji.ac.il/ - Orion Centre for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls

For Athanasius, Ignatius, Polycarp � discussion at http//www.newadvent.org/cathen/ - The Catholic Encyclopedia; texts at http//www.ccel.org/fathers/ - Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Please note that this sample paper on Describing The Incomprehensible is for your review only. In order to eliminate any of the plagiarism issues, it is highly recommended that you do not use it for you own writing purposes. In case you experience difficulties with writing a well structured and accurately composed paper on Describing The Incomprehensible, we are here to assist you. Your cheap college papers on Describing The Incomprehensible will be written from scratch, so you do not have to worry about its originality.

Order your authentic assignment from cheap custom writing service and you will be amazed at how easy it is to complete a quality custom paper within the shortest time possible!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.