10 October 2007

The Power of the Gospel--Part 3

So now that we know when the Gospels were written, on to another (seemingly boring but surprisingly fascinating) topic: their genre.

Stick with me.

It may seem, like so many things, inconsequential to wonder what genre the Gospels are, but it actually makes a huge difference in the way we read and understand them. Think about it: you wouldn't open up a Dan Brown novel and expect a romance novel would you? (Well, apart from his obligatory awkward hook-up in the last chapter of every novel he writes, no.) You wouldn't crack an Agatha Christie and expect historical fiction just as you wouldn't open "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire" and expect a thriller. You know what to expect because you're aware of the book's genre. The same holds true for the Gospels. We may assume that the Gospels are their own genre, and for awhile Biblical scholars would have agreed with you, but it's actually not the case.

The Gospels are biography, right?
Well, half wrong.
In reality, they're a type of Ancient Biography, which is quite different than our (modern) idea of biography. Ancient Biographies don't put any emphasis on the subject's psychological development (which if you think about it, makes sense since psychology is a relatively new science), they put heavy emphasis on the subject's death, and use quotes loosely so that they can be changed to fit the occasion or argument of the author.

Did that hit a nerve?

That nerve (which, if the above paragraph didn't bother you at all, should have been somewhere around "use quotes loosely") is because our modern concepts of truth and accountability in writing are very different than those ideas in the Ancient Near East. That's not to say that it was a free-for-all of authorship; the rules were just a little bit different. Hence why it's so important to keep the genre in mind whilst reading the Gospels. That discrepancy between Matthew and John? Probably an issue of what point they were trying to prove when they wrote their respective Gospels. Bothered because Jesus' childhood isn't documented. Sorry, but you'll just have to accept that that was the way biographies were written back in the day. We don't read Charles Dickens and expect Ernest Hemingway, so why should we read Matthew and expect Walter Cronkite? While the enduring themes of the Gospels (my next topic) are certainly applicable today, we must keep in mind that the times and culture were different.

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