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WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
It is possible to quote one of Paul's sayings in support of the contention that the whole of the New Testament is Gospel. He writes in a certain place: "According to my Gospel" [Romans 2:16]. Now we have no written work of Paul which is commonly called a Gospel. But all that he preached and said was the Gospel; and what he preached and said he was also in the habit of writing, and what he wrote was therefore Gospel. But if what Paul wrote was Gospel, it follows that what Peter wrote was also Gospel, and in a word all that was said or written to perpetuate the knowledge of Christ's sojourn on earth, and to prepare for His second coming, or to bring it about as a present reality in the souls which were willing to receive the Word of God as he stood at the door and knocked and sought to come into them.
Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 3rd century
WHICH BOOKS ARE MOST IMPORTANT?
The true kernel and marrow of all the books, those which should rightly be ranked first, are the gospel of John and St. Paul's epistles, especially that to the Romans, together with St. Peter's first epistle. Every Christian would do well to read them first and most often, and, by daily perusal, make them as familiar as his daily bread. You will not find in these books much said about the works and miracles of Christ, but you will find a masterly account of how faith in Christ conquers sin, death, and hell; and gives life, righteousness, and salvation.
Martin Luther, "Preface to the New Testament," 1522
In the Sermon on the Mount, as well as throughout the whole Gospel, I found everywhere... the same doctrine, "Resist not evil."... We may declare the universal practice of such a rule is very difficult; we may deny that he who follows it will find happiness; we may say with the unbelievers that it is stupid, that Christ was a dreamer... but it is impossible not to admit that Christ expressed in a manner at once clear and precise what He wished to say; that is, that according to His doctrine a man must not resist evil, and, consequently, that whoever adopts His doctrine cannot resist evil. And yet neither believers nor unbelievers will admit this simple and clear interpretation of Christ's words.
Leo Tolstoy, My Religion, 1884
JESUS AS REVOLUTIONARY
Jesus was not a child of this world. He did not revere the men it called great; he did not accept its customs and social usages as final; his moral conceptions did not run along the grooves marked out by it. He nourished within his soul the ideal of a common life so radically different from the present that it involved a reversal of values, a revolutionary displacement of existing relations. This ideal was not merely a beautiful dream to solace his soul. He lived it out in his own daily life. He urged others to live that way.
Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis, 1907
THE ORIGINALITY OF PAUL
...God's grace is not an historical phenomenon. It is not the possession of an historical nation, membership of which guarantees the security of the individual.... Of course, in belonging to Christ he [the Christian] is a member of his body, and is therefore bound to the other members in the unity of the Church. But before God he stands, in the first place at any rate, in utter loneliness, extricated from his natural ties. The fundamental question which is asked of man, 'Are you ready to believe in the word of God's grace?' can only be answered individually. This individualizing of man's relation to God has its roots in the psalms and Wisdom literature, and above all in Jeremiah. But its full implications were never realized until the time of Paul with his radical conception of the grace of God.
Rudolf Bultmann, Primitive Christianity in Its Contemporary Setting, 1949
THE INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE
The Scriptures, of course, bear the individual stamp of the times in which they were written and the mental stamp of their human authors; they have quite definite designs and aims which have been partly influenced by the individual situation, both human and religious, of the author, It is in fact not even necessary that the author be aware of his being inspired... divine activity and human activity are... factors which grow in equal proportion.
Karl Rahner, "The Inspiration of the Bible," 1964
MYTH AND LEGEND IN THE GOSPELS
...[W]hen the redaction of the Gospels was completed, a vivid narrative form of proclamation, making use of myths, legends, symbols, was absolutely necessary. How are new experiences and particularly new experiences of faith to be communicated if not by storytelling? It is obvious that the biblical Christmas and Easter stories are more comprehensible and easier to remember than any amount of abstract propositions on divine sonship and passing through death to life.
Hans Kung, On Being a Christian, 1974
A FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE
According to all four Gospels, Mary Magdalene is the primary witness for the fundamental data of the early Christian faith: she witnessed the life and death of Jesus, his burial and his resurrection. She was sent to the disciples to proclaim the Easter kerygma. Therefore Bernard of Clairvaux correctly calls her "apostle to the apostles." Christian faith is based upon the witness and proclamation of women.
Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, "Feminist Theology as a Critical Theology of Liberation," 1975
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts
The following experts reviewed the Book Notes manuscript on the New Testament. The volume does not necessarily reflect their views, however.
Barry L. Bandstra
Alice L. Laffey
Sid Zalman Leiman
There are many good translations of the New Testament. You'll find a number of them discussed in the section on Translations in this Book Notes volume. Many editions of the New Testament are equipped with glossaries, maps, and other study helps. The Anchor Bible (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964-) provides detailed commentaries on individual books of the Bible. The Cambridge Bible Commentary (London: Cambridge University Press, 1972-) provides readable commentaries on individual books in the New English Bible version. The following list is a brief selection from among the hundreds of other books available on various aspects of the New Testament.
Achtemeier, Paul J. ed. Harper's Bible Dictionary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986. Excellent reference work, with thousands of articles covering many aspects of the Old and New Testaments.
Beardslee, William A. Literary Criticism of the New Testament. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970. Discussion of literary forms in the New Testament.
Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977. Highly detailed analysis of the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke.
_____. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Concise commentary on the Old and New Testaments.
Bruce, Frederick F. History of the Bible in English. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. History of English translations.
Bultmann, Rudolf. Jesus Christ and Mythology. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958. Presents the case for "demythologizing" the Gospels.
_____. Primitive Christianity in Its Contemporary Setting. Tr. Reginald H. Fuller. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980. Excellent introduction to the religious thought of the ancient world as background to the New Testament.
_____. and Karl Kundsin. Form Criticism. Tr. Frederick C. Grant. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. Probably the best introduction to form criticism and its results.
Finegan, Jack. The Archaeology of the New Testament. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969. Presents the archaeological background to the Gospels.
Grant, Frederick C. The Gospels: Their Origin and Growth. New York: Harper & Row, 1957. Excellent discussion of how the New Testament came to be written.
Grant, Robert M. A Historical Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Harper & Row, 1963. Readable introduction to the New Testament literature.
Kummel, Werner G. Introduction to the New Testament. Rev. ed. Tr. A. J. Mattill. London: SCM, 1975. Fine scholarly introduction to the New Testament.
Meeks, Wayne A. The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983. Discussion of the social context of Paul's Epistles.
Metzger, Bruce M. The Text of the New Testament. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. Authoritative discussion of the problems involved in editing the Greek text of the New Testament.
Pelikan, Jaroslav. Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986. Graceful study of changing perceptions of Jesus.
© Copyright 1986 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.