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Genre: Gospel November 11, 2009

Posted by TJ Friend in Genre.
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Here we go again. Today I would like to talk about the gospel genre. This is the genre of the first four books of the New Testament. My intent is not to define this genre as a whole as it was when these books were written, but to show some characteristics of the New Testament use of gospel. Hopefully, this will help us to interpret them better.

Gospels are similar to biographies in that they focus on one person as the “hero”. This person in the NT gospels is obviously Jesus. The Gospel’s are not biographies though. The main difference is that the Gospels are not intended to describe every event in Jesus’ life. They are highly focused and emphasize more Jesus’ role in the plan of salvation then telling his life story. They show how Jesus is the Messiah, God’s son, who came down from heaven and took on flesh in order to redeem us from sin and death.

One of the difficulties of defining the genre of the Gospels is that they had a dual purpose with a specific audience in mind. The Gospels were written with the intent of them being read in the churches, so they were written with a lot of teaching material in them. But they were also written somewhat biographical, in order to tell the story of Jesus and his ministry, death, and resurrection.

The style of the Gospels is basically narrative. There is a general flow of action as the story unfolds. But, there are also large sections of discourse material in the Gospels. In reading the Gospels it is important to keep in mind the narrative underlying the discourse. Because of the large sections of discourse it can sometimes be difficult to follow the flow of the story, because if we don’t we risk reading the Gospels simply as a collection of sayings and end up missing the bigger picture. As you read through the Gospels see where Jesus is going and who he is talking to, whether it is to his disciples or the crowd or the Pharisees. Sometimes Jesus goes into a lengthy discourse based on a question by the Pharisees, and if we don’t read it in context we can miss the point of what he is saying.

Also, when you are reading through the Gospels watch how Jesus is treated as the story progresses. The climax of all four Gospels is Jesus’ death and resurrection. You can see the opposition growing as it gets closer to this time.

Because Gospels are a cross between narrative and discourse, there is also a mixture of literal and figurative language. The narrative sections that describe events should be taken literally. When it says Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead, these are literal events that happened. The figurative language comes in when you read the discourse material. When Jesus speaks he uses a lot of metaphors and similes, as well as parables and allegories. For the most part it is pretty easy to tell when Jesus is saying something figuratively as opposed to literally.

One final note, a lot of the OT is referenced either directly or indirectly in the Gospels. The writers of the Gospels assumed that their audience had at least a basic understanding of the OT. You can not fully interpret (or maybe even understand) the Gospels without familiarizing yourself with the Old Testament. The OT is not only interesting and beneficial, it is also vital not only to understanding the Gospels, but the entire New Testament.

Summary
1. Read the Gospels primarily as a story, watching how the plot develops throughout
2. The Gospels were meant primarily to teach truths of Christianity and secondarily to show the life of Jesus
3. Read the discourses in light of their audience/context
4. Read the OT, especially the parts that are referenced in the Gospels
5. Take the literal parts literal and the figurative parts figuratively
6. Look for the big message – why were these written

Reflection
1. Since the Gospels were written with Jesus as the focus, why is John the Baptist not only featured, but featured prominently in them?

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Comments»

1. Seth - November 11, 2009

I’ve heard it said that the gospels are “extended passion narrative,” or passion narratives with extended introductions.


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