Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Four Gospels

Q - Who exactly were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? I have heard from a Muslim that they never met Jesus and were merely writers who used third hand information thus their works can not be reliable. What is an appropriate response for this? Thank you for your help!

A - Thanks for the questions! Scholars might argue about authorship, but we can rest assured that the writers of the Gospels were of the apostolic age, if not actual followers of Jesus (or apostles of the apostles).

The Catechism tells us:
126 We can distinguish three stages in the formation of the Gospels:

(1) 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."

(2) The oral tradition. "For, after the ascension of the Lord, the apostles handed on to their hearers what he had said and done, but with that fuller understanding which they, instructed by the glorious events of Christ and enlightened by the Spirit of truth, now enjoyed."

(3) The written Gospels. "The sacred authors, in writing the four Gospels, selected certain of the many elements which had been handed on, either orally or already in written form; others they synthesized or explained with an eye to the situation of the churches, the while sustaining the form of preaching, but always in such a fashion that they have told us the honest truth about Jesus."
Tradition holds that Matthew and John were two of the twelve apostles and that Mark and Luke were "apostles of apostles" (Mark of Peter and Luke of Paul).

The Church holds that the tradition would be the norm, unless proven definitively that this is not so. Now, some scholars, esp. starting with German theologians in the 1800's started to question the traditional understanding of authorship based on textual analysis. In other words, they can't prove it was not the four tradition holds to be the authors definitively. Scholarship does has a duty to explore these issues. But, should do so with the eyes of faith. While modern analysis would question John and Matthew more than Luke and Mark at this point, that is missing the point.

Regardless of authorship, the Gospels are authentic representations of Jesus' life, words, ministry and miracles. Early Christians wouldn't have accepted them as true if they were not. We can trust them to be accurately apostolic and authoritative. Authorship (and not "third hand" as accused above) by non-apostles does not mean non-authoritative. Apostolic Tradition is still present in the writings.

Remember that a Muslim will not approach the Gospels as a Christian will. So, don't try to "prove it" to the other person, but rather present the truth in charity and let it stand on it's own. Arguing it to death won't convince another person of the truth of the matter.


Anonymous said...

I disagree, I think that if you try to "prove it" you are going to be forced to appeal to reason, which is common to all men. In this, another person can be convinced, if he/she sees that your claims are not reliant only on some sort of vague notion of faith. But it works both ways. Many (not all) of those critical scripture scholars in the 19th century were trying to do the same thing in reverse. If they could prove that the Church had believed and taught falsely concerning one of her greatest treasures - the Gospels - they could undermine her authority and paint her as an unenlightened superstitous entity at odds with reason. Many of them were influenced heavily by the godless philosophies that ravaged Europe at the time, and could hardly be called Christian, in the traditional sense of the word. Their theories remain nothing but theories, but unfortunately many have accepted them as "gospel-truth", often to the detrement of the faithful.

Marcel said...

What I am trying to get a young person to gaurd against is arguing a point to death. There is a point in a conversation when you have to let the other decide for themselves whether they will accept your point or not. That is the only limitation I would put on a discussion. I am not saying that there is not a place for reason or details.