Much literary criticism assumes that the gospels are not necessarily historical or else it plays down theological or religious context. However, these assumptions are not inherent in the method; a well-crafted piece of historical writing also promotes certain ideological concerns in an artistic and aesthetically pleasing (Bloomberg)."
Now that we have garnered a greater understanding of the climate of Israel at the time of Jesus Christ and the criticisms that have been leveled against the gospel, let us discuss in detail each of the four gospels. This discussion will evaluate the writings and the proposed intent of the writers. We will discuss the similarities and differences of the four gospels. A careful analysis of each chapter will reiterate the idea that the gospels are eyewitness testimonies whose differences and similarities are valuable in exploring and proving the historical life of Jesus Christ the Lord God on earth.
The Four Gospels: Differences and Similarities
Matthew and Mark
As was mentioned previously in this discussion, Matthew was a tax collector and one of the twelve disciples. Although the gospel of Matthew appears first in the New Testament it has been generally agreed upon that it is not the first Gospel that was written. Most experts believe that Mark was written first and that Matthew referenced the Gospel of Mark when writing what became the first book of the New Testament.
Most scholars seem to agree that there are parallels to the structure of the Gospel of Matthew and the Pentateuch. Bloomberg asserts that the Gospel of Matthew highlights five of Jesus sermons, which is comparable to the five books of the Pentateuch. Many scholars believe that Matthew intended to provide the church with a new "Law." According to a book entitled the New Testament, an Introduction: Proclamation and Parenesis, Myth and History, this proclamation of a new law, which contained the tenets of the Christian faith, was chosen as the first book of the bible (Duling and Perrin). The authors explain that the gospel of Matthew is the first book in the New Testament because it was found to be the most useful of all the texts for the church's use through the centuries. It is very much a "church book," written specifically to meet the needs of the church as a developing organization, and it succeeded magnificently. It provided a basis on which the church could build its life, a clear set of instructions for procedure in its affairs, and an understanding of its past, present, and future that made sense of its ongoing life in the world (Duling and Perrin)." book entitled the Synoptic Gospels: Conflict and Consensus reports that the book of Matthew has been historically held in the highest regard by the church (Nickle). This is in some degree because it includes more of the traditions about the life and teaching of Jesus than do Mark, Luke, and John (Nickle).
Duling and Perrin insist that Matthew wanted the Jewish people to understand and accept Jesus as Messiah. The authors point out that Matthew uses Old Testament scripture to describe the Messianic attributes of Christ and incorporates Old Testament prophecies into his writings (Duling and Perrin). Bloomberg points out that Matthew emphasizes the ancestry of Jesus naming Abraham and King David (Bloomberg).
In addition, Matthew includes Ruth, Tamar, Rahab, Mary and Bathsheba (Bloomberg). Mark also names some of the ancestry of Christ but other books of the gospel do not. Bloomberg also explains that many of the women that Matthew named as descendants of Christ had sorted sexual past and all of them except Mary had Gentile ancestry (Bloomberg). Bloomberg asserts that the existence of such women in the genealogy of Christ is evidence that he may indeed be the deliver for all kinds of people regardless of race or past discrepancies (Bloomberg).
In addition Duling and Perrin assert that there is a particularly different slant to the writing Matthew because of the destruction of Jerusalem that had occurred. Duling and Perrin assert that the destruction of Jerusalem was significant in that it also destroyed the temple, which became a problem for both Christians and Jews (Duling and Perrin). The authors assert that for the Jewish community the absence of the temple meant that the worship that they engaged in at the temple was no longer available as a way of developing a relationship with God (Duling and Perrin). In addition, it meant that Jerusalem was no longer the center of religious activity for the Jews (Duling and Perrin).
Additionally, the destruction of Jerusalem brought about fundamental changes in the various sects that operated in the region during this time (Duling and Perrin). Duling and Perrin report that four main sects arose after the destruction of Jerusalem including the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Zealots and the Esenes (Duling and Perrin). Among the most important of these four were the Pharisees who were able to withstand the Jewish war (Duling and Perrin).
The authors explain that the Pharisees were the popular religious leaders devoted to studying and interpreting the Law and obeying it, and to practicing forms of piety such as synagogue attendance, prayer, almsgiving and punctilious payment of tithes. Since it was difficult to understand how a law written centuries earlier applied to all the circumstances of a changed and changing culture, the Pharisees developed an oral tradition of interpretation of the Law that answered any questions. Fundamentally, the Pharisee understood the Law as revealing the will and purpose of God for men in the world, by obedience to which they achieved the blessing of God (Duling and Perrin)."
The Pharisees were able to triumph after the war because they possessed the resources needed to build synagogues even though the temple had been destroyed (Duling and Perrin).. The authors also explain that because the Pharisees were able to preserve the Law they had authority in the Jewish community (Duling and Perrin). The Pharisees played a significant part in the religious climate that existed during the time of Christ (Duling and Perrin).
The role of the Pharisees is also evident throughout the book of Matthew. This is because the Pharisees had control over Judaism (Duling and Perrin). Duling and Perrin explain that the Pharisees created a new center at Jamnia which is located in northwest of the territory of Judah (Duling and Perrin). It was there that the Pharisees established what is now known as the Old Testament. In addition, the Pharisees systematized ideals surrounding beliefs and practices and codified the interpretation of the law (Duling and Perrin).
This form of Judaism still exists to this day and is referred to as "rabbinic Judaism, because its center is the authoritative interpretation of the Law by the rabbis. In essence, it is Pharisaism redefined in view of the changes necessitated by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (Duling and Perrin)."Thus, the authors explain that Matthew's gospel is written as "a constant dialogue with the developments going on at Jamnia. This dialogue seems not to have been with Jamnia directly, but rather with the synagogue and Jewish community as it responded to what was happening there (Duling and Perrin)."
Indeed the most identifiable characteristic of Matthew is his use of the Jewish Scriptures to explain the life of Jesus (Nickle).
The author, Nickle explains that the book of Matthew uses allusions and citations correlated with the same religious traditions found in the Jewish Scriptures (Nickle). Although Mark also utilized the Jewish Scriptures but Matthew does so more often and with greater emphasis (Nickle). In doing this Matthew was able to combine two things that were essential to the early church the accounts of Jesus life and Jewish Scriptures (Nickle).
Nickle describes Matthew's use of the Old Testaments in some cases as perplexing. The author explains that Matthew used certain methods to correlate Jesus Life with Old Testament texts. The author asserts
His search for an appropriate passage that would conform to an event in the Jesus tradition sometimes led him to quote a passage without regard for its context. "Out of Egypt have I called my son," which Matthew (2:15) applied to the flight of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to Egypt, described originally, in Hosea, the Exodus deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery (Hos. 11:1). Jeremiah's lament for an Israel herded away to exile (Jer. 31:15) is converted into anticipation of the grief caused by Herod's murder of the male children of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16-18) (Nickle)."
Nickle adds that in some cases Matthew's use of Old testament passages is vague and may elude the reader.
or in other cases Matthew uses words to describe Christ that he contends are found in the Old Testament that are not. For instance in Matthew 2:23, the author asserts
And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, 'He shall be called a Nazarene'.".. The text that Matthew was citing in that instance is obscure. Maybe he intended a word-play on…