Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Write Your Own Gospel

Okay, here's the deal. You have to write your own gospel account.

Should I say that it has to be for the church you're a part of? That would make it more interesting.

Should I also say that none of your readers will have access to any of the four gospels you know so well? The plot thickens.

Even better, what if you know that your account will have to compete with the others that are available? By the way, is this the author's assumption in Luke 1:1-4? And is this why John is so different?

Let's go with a long-standing consensus and assume that Mark was written first. Let's also assume that the other three gospel writers knew the Gospel of Mark. Were Matthew and Luke and John all thinking, "There's a better way to do this"?

For what it's worth, I use the names of the four evangelists for the sake of convenience. I don't assume I know who wrote any of the gospels, although I like the traditions and have no compelling reason to reject them. And that raises another interesting question: How would it impact what you wrote if your gospel was anonymous? Or if your identity might be suspected, hinted at, but heavily veiled?

Anyway, in writing your gospel, you can use only what's in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. No new material (like you have any). Nothing from the apocryphal gospels (would you really want to?). Yours will be a sort of new creation using what's already there.

Also, you can't do a harmony of the gospels, where people include all the material from all four. In fact, like the four accounts we have, you will have to leave out a lot that's found in one or more of the other three. For example, you can have one birth story (Matthew's with the magi) or you can have the other (Luke's with the shepherds). But you can't have both. Or, like Mark and John, you can have neither. Etc.

Ready? Now for a few questions:

1. What major segment (miracle story, parable or sermon of Jesus, etc.) are you sure to include? Why?

2. What major segment are you sure to leave out? Why? (Oh, and in response to this one, you don't get to say, "I'd leave out John 7:53-8:11 or Mark 16:9-20 because I don't think they're authentic anyway").

Bonus: How much difference does it make in your choices if this gospel of yours has a specific destination? For example, what if your gospel will be the account used in a suburban church in the U.S.? Or in a church in a small village in India that's dominated by Hinduism? That is to say, What happens to your choices when they're guided not by your personal preferences, but by what you perceive to be a certain groups' needs? And would a person ever write a gospel without having a particular ideal audience in mind in the first place?

Your thoughts?


Arlene Kasselman said...

Wow Frank - this is a blog post that is going to have me in my thinker mode for days.

I was immediately struck by the fact that The Sermon on the Mount would feature prominently for me. The teaching from the beatitudes would be front and central addressing western cultures.

Seeing as you have laid out the challenge, I would also change the wording of the Beatitudes to reflect more accurately what I believe Jesus is saying. It would read something like this: The Kingdom of God is available for all people. For those who are meek, poor, weak, beaten down, on the fringes.

I'll keep thinking...

Frank Bellizzi said...


Thanks for the feedback. Always good to hear from you.

About the wording of the Beatitudes, here's a related question: Are your alternatives simply better translations of the biblical text (maybe just a little more interpretive?) Or are you wanting to write what Jesus said based on what you think he'd say to your audience now?

I wonder how much that dynamic at work in the Four Gospels.

Presumably, Jesus preached in Aramaic. So did the gospel writers say to themselves, "Yeah, I know that's what Jesus said in Aramaic (assuming they knew that language too), but here's what he would have said . . . in Greek . . . 50 years later . . . to my intended audience"?

Arlene Kasselman said...

I love your response question and I want to say "both and" as my answer. I know major cop-out but also true.
I think my wording change reflects more accurately what I believe Jesus was saying in his time to his audience. I think so much of the power of that message was that the Kingdom of God was for all people - the disenfranchised that had previously had no place. My limited language training does not give me the kind of credibility one would need to make a scholarly argument here. But, I think the overall theological arch of scripture, gospel itself, and my experience has led me to this reading. I will say hours and hours of digging through Dallas Willard on this has led me here too.

I spent many years figuring out how to be meek, poor in spirit etc because that is what I thought Jesus was calling me to in order to be a fully formed follower. Now I believe those words to be more descriptive of the reality of the kingdom and less prescriptive about what it takes to be a part of it.