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Life of Christ?
The Zondervan Quick-Reference Library: Life of Christ is a new and unique reference tool. Simply put, it is a complete and comprehensive account of the life of Jesus Christ. Because we get much of our information in daily life quickly and efficiently, we are becoming increasingly accustomed to having knowledge about the Bible also given to us in the same way. There is a legitimate need for a more efficient way to gain information about the Bible--if only as a starting point for more in-depth and reflective understanding. Once we get a sense of what a subject such as the life of Christ is about, the details begin to make more sense. A regular use of this Life of Christ book should lead to a more knowledgeable study of God's Word. This book is a convenient starting point for gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the Scriptures. It has two distinct features: (1) a series of introductory pages, intended to bring the reader up to speed on the study of the Gospels and the life of Christ; (2) a historical and chronological account of the events in the life of Christ.
A word is needed about the kind of historical account of the life of Christ offered in this book. Many accounts of his life have been written.
In important ways, this one is unique. If you look closely at the accounts of Christ's life currently available, most retell the story from two perspectives: (1) the accounts given in the four Gospels in the New Testament, and (2) historical and archaeological sources from New Testament times.
In such accounts, the material taken from the Gospels is usually fit into the broader scheme of first-century Roman and Palestinian history. The "big picture," then, is taken from extrabiblical history and the life of Christ is fit into that picture. Moreover, many historical details of first-century Palestine are added to "fill-out" the picture of Christ.
We have chosen not to take that approach. Rather, we have limited ourselves almost entirely to the account of Christ's life as seen within the four Gospels. Naturally some reference is made to persons and locations known to us from history, but the story itself comes from the biblical text.
By viewing the events of Christ's life internally from the four perspectives of the Gospels, we attempt to "see the whole" of his life as the biblical authors themselves present it. There are advantages, of course, to both approaches, but we feel a need for the type of account of Christ's life given in this book.
Gospel in the New Testament
Our knowledge of the life of Christ comes almost entirely from the pages of the four Gospels--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are literary works, whose intent is to give a historical portrait of the man Jesus.
Each Gospel has its own point of view and presents the life of Christ from that perspective.
What kind of literary texts are these Gospels? We must know how to answer that question to fully appreciate the picture of Jesus that each
Gospel gives. We begin our look at the life of Jesus with a brief description of the sources we will use.
The general meaning of the Greek term for gospel (euangelion) is "good news." In the New Testament this term means specifically "the message of salvation"--the message of Christ's work in his life, death, and resurrection. First Corinthians 15: 3-5 contains an early summary: "that
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to [various of his followers]."
As this early statement shows, the gospel focused on Jesus' deeds rather than on his teachings. This message served as the basis of the preaching of the early church; thus, in New Testament usage, gospel applies mainly to the preached message about Jesus Christ. Those who preached the gospel were known as the evangelists (cf. Acts 21: 8; Eph. 4: 11; 2 Tim. 4: 5).
There is at least one example in the New Testament, however, where the written account of the life of Christ is itself called a "gospel"--Mark 1: 1, "the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ." Beyond this example, within the written texts themselves are helpful clues as to how these
Gospels were originally conceived of by their authors. In John 20: 30, for example, the author refers to his Gospel as "this book" or "this scroll."
According to Luke 1: 1 the earliest written accounts of Jesus' life were called simply "accounts" or "narratives." By the beginning of the second century, gospel as used in Mark seems to have become a general title for the written story about Jesus Christ (Didache 15: 3-4; 2 Clement 8: 5).
The Genre "Gospel"
For the most part, the written documents we call Gospels should be understood as simple narrative texts of the life, death, and resurrection of
Jesus. Their purpose was to link the message of the gospel to the details of Jesus' life and teaching, and their goal was the explication and clarification of the message of the cross. Mark alone entitles his work a "gospel."
We need to ask what the "genre" of this form of writing is.
It is generally agreed that the New Testament Gospel narratives do not correspond to any literary form known in the literature of the ancient world. The reason for this, no doubt, lies in the fact that behind these
Gospels stands a unique event--the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Lord. A unique event called for a unique genre of literature.
A comparison with literary forms of the ancient world reveals several unique features of the Gospels. They do not, for example, conform to the normal form of the ancient historical writings such as biographies or memoirs. They do not show an interest in developing the personality of Jesus, his personal and family background, or his education and his human character. Moreover, they do not contain references to the thoughts and opinions of their authors--in fact, they do not even contain an indication of who their authors were.
In other words, the form of the Gospels appears to be determined by their unique purpose--to bring together the words and deeds of the historical Jesus in a way that demonstrates the significance of his life, death, and resurrection.