The Formation of the New Testament

The Resurrection of Jesus
(AD 31)

The event which gave rise to the Christian Faith

The conversion of Saul of Tarsus
(AD 35)
Reported in Acts.
 Paul's letters to the Churches
(AD 49 - AD 62 )
1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, 1Thessalonians,
Philemon and Phillipians are without dispute, Paul's writings.
Gospel of Mark
(AD 65 )
Most agree as the first to be written.
Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem
(AD 70)
In the year AD 66 the Jews of Judea rebelled against their Roman masters.
In response, the Emperor Nero despatched an army under General Vespasian
to restore order. That same year Nero committed suicide, Vespian was declared
Emperor. It was his son Titus who eventually destroyed the Temple and
Jerusalem itself.
Gospel of Matthew
(AD 82)
Composed largely of Mark's material with modifications and additions;
notably the birth story and the teaching of Jesus. 
Gospel of Luke & the Acts of the Apostles
(AD 90)
Most of St. Mark's Gospel plus a different birth story and some teaching of Jesus.
Gospel of John
(AD 100)
Quite different in style and content from the earlier Gospels.
It is structured around seven 'Signs' and 'I AM ' sayings attributed to Jesus.

The Bible is a library comprising a wide range of literary genre. The Old Testament includes Myth, Legend, Poetry, History, Songs, Prophecy (insight not foresight) Law and Apocalyptic literature. The New Testament contains Gospels and Letters which draw heavily on the Old Testament material. In particular, the New Testament writers used themes and stories from the Old Testament in order to express their conviction that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. Clearly such a wide spectrum of writing cannot be interpreted in a uniform way which ignores the particular literary genre. If the Bible is to be interpreted in a way which is understandable and credible to 21st century people care must be taken to appreciate the 'setting in life' in which each book was written.

The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and sometimes exactly the same wording. This degree of parallelism in content, narrative arrangement, language, and sentence structures can only be accounted for by literary interdependence. Most scholars believe that these gospels share the same point of view and are clearly linked. The term synoptic comes from the Greek syn, meaning "together", and optic, meaning "seen". According to the majority of biblical scholars, Mark was the first gospel to be written. Matthew and Luke then used Mark as a source, as well as a hypothetical sayings gospel known as Q. Matthew and Luke also included unique material, and the sources for this material are designated M and L, respectively. The synoptic gospels are the primary source for historical information about Jesus.

This Venn diagram illustrates the logical relationships between the synoptic gospels. The areas of the diagram are not meant to be proportional to the volume of text.


Text Examples
A + D :- Text shared by Mark & Luke  'Whoever is not against us is for us' Mark 9: 38 - 40,
Luke 9: 49 -50
B + D:- Text shared by Mark & Matthew  Jesus feeds 4,000 people Matt.15: 32 - 39, Mark 8: 1 - 10
D + C:- Text shared by Mark,Luke & Matthew  Jesus calls the first disciples.
Mark 1: 16 - 20,
Matt. 4: !8-22. Luke 5: 1 - 11.

C = Text shared by Luke & Matthew but not Mark.

The birth of Jesus
Luke 2: 1 - 7, Matthew 1 : 18 - 30, 38 - end.
D = Text shared by Mark, Matthew & Luke. The 'Little Apocalypse'
Mark 13, Matt. 24, Luke 21. 


Mark: Beyond Mythology to Reality

Do demonic spirits exist? Do they speak Are they responsible for wind and storm? Do they grapple with people and throw them to the ground in violent seizures? Is history to be understood in terms of the struggle between God the creator and the demon spirits who have taken over that creation? Does the divine nature of Jesus reside primarily in his ability to caste out these demonic forces, to break their power over human life? Why was the death of Jesus marked with the violent tearing of the curtain in the Temple? Was that magic? Can a citizen of the 21st century respond in a meaningful way to this pre-scientific analysis of reality?

The early Christian view of things, like the late Jewish view on which it was largely based, was eschatological; that is, it held:

1 That the universe had been brought into being by a single act of creation by God.
2 That God had a definite purpose for it.
3 That throughout history God had exerted pressure on his creation to conform to that purpose.
4 That under the influence of various powers it had diverged from that purpose.
5 That at some point God would intervene to overthrow these powers and bring about a state of affairs that he had originally intended. 6 That this final state of affairs would involve for certain chosen people a life of unending bliss in God's presence.

The final intervention by God was believed by some as 'heaven on earth', others as a 'new heaven and a new earth' for his elect. Others combined both views and thought of a period of bliss in this world followed by an eternity of glory in the next. According to most schemes, the dead of past generations were to be raised to face judgment and a consequent assignment to eternal bliss of eternal torment. Among the early Christians, God's decisive act, and the state of affairs it would bring about, were referred to as 'The Kingdom of God' or .The Kingdom of Heaven'. This scheme of things is presented in the form of a diagram.


(from 'A New Kind Of Christianity' by Brian McLaren).

To be a Christian – in the West at least, since the 5th or 6th century - has required us to believe that the bible presents this very specific storyline by which we assess our lives. Most of us know this storyline implicitly even though it has never been made explicit for us. This storyline can be illustrated by six simple lines. We start on the left with a state of absolute perfection in the Garden of Eden. Then comes the 'fall into original sin'; a phrase never used in the Bible. The bottom trough is a state in which we are living, a state referred to as 'the fallen world'. Next comes an ascending line called 'salvation', leading us to heaven. Of course for many people – perhaps the majority of people – the ending is not so happy. Does this story contribute to a higher vision of God, a deeper engagement with Christ, a more profound experience of the Holy Spirit? Does it motivate us to love God, neighbour, and enemy more whole-heartedly? I think not. This storyline is however still believed by many in the Church – some who tweak it slightly by including purgatory and by reducing the number of candidates for hell – others who positively rejoice that they are the 'chosen' few and delight in the prospect of their enemies ending up in Hell. It is also believed by many outside the church who as a consequence reject institutional religion. Mark accepted the street version of this mythology without question. For him the earth was flat, God was out there beyond the heavens and Satan was down there in hell. Life was a struggle between the forces of Satan and God. Jesus was God's emissary. In the life of this Jesus the conflict between good and evil, God and Satan, was being waged. If this frame of reference is not understood by the reader, the Gospel of Mark makes no sense. But if this frame of reference becomes literalised, it becomes unbelievable in this 21st century. Our task then, is to peel away the outer surface of this writing and search for the person of Jesus who was the source of inspiration for its author. The earliest Christians expected Christ's return and the complete establishment of God's kingdom within one or two generations, so from their point of view it was natural to regard the three stages of Christ's work, his earthly life, his present Lordship in heaven, and his future coming, as three acts of a single drama. Since the first Christians were all Jews, they naturally set this drama against the background of the Old Testament and saw it as the final phase of the salvation history of the Jews. St. Mark was therefore not much interested in the earthly life of Jesus – there is no account of his birth and little reference to his family or his genealogy. We know that the mother of Jesus was Mary (Mark 6:3), and that his brothers were called James, Joseph, Judas and Simon (sisters were not named – naturally). The name of Jesus' presumed father was never mentioned and that Jesus was a carpenter. St. Mark's main concern is with the manner of his death and his right to be called the Son of God. This status as the divine Son of God was demonstrated in his power over the works of Satan. There are no resurrection appearances except those referred to in later additions to the gospel. The gospel in its earliest form ends at verse 16:8. 'So they went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.' Exercises Read the following sections of Mark's Gospel and compare with the parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke. A Mother's request; Mark !0 : 35 – 45;. Matthew 20: 20 – 28. [B] A Canaanite Woman; Mark 7: 24 – 30; Matthew 15: 21 - 28. [B] Healing of a Demon Possessed man; Mark 5: 1 – 20; Matt. 8: 28 – 34; Luke 8: 26 – 29 [D] 'Little Apocalypse'; Mark 13; Matt. 24; Luke 21 [D]

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