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Lectures in Biblical Theology
of The New Testament
by C. D. Cole
Lecture 2 of 23
The Structure of Revelation By Dr. C. D. Cole
Let it be remembered that the first Christians had only the Old Testament for their Bible. And the first evangelists got the material for their sermons from the Old Testament. Peter’s sermons in Acts were taken from the Old Testament. In Acts seventh chapter we have Stephen’s review of the Old Testament history of Israel. In Acts eighth chapter we have Philip’s sermon to the Ethiopian eunuch from Isaiah 53. And wherever Paul went, as seen in Acts, he preached from the Old Testament.
The early Christians believed that the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth were the fulfillment of Old Testament predictions. This led the Bereans to search the Old Testament Scriptures to see if the things Paul preached were true. The gospel of the New Testament evangelists was according to the Old Testament. “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins,” (Acts 10:43); “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures,” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The gospel is prophecy in the Old Testament, and history in the New Testament. And it is the same gospel. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me,” (John 5:39); “Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God,” (Heb. 10:7); “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me,” (Ps. 40:7).
We must also remember that the gospel of Christ was first given by word of mouth—it was an oral gospel before it was written. It was about twenty years after the ascension of Christ until the first book of the New Testament was written, and about sixty-five years until it was completed. The story of Christ was first given orally by the apostles as eyewitnesses. And it was so many times repeated that it took on stereotyped form. The early church had a fixed creed or body of doctrine before the New Testament was completed. “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,” (Luke 1:1). And Paul exhorts Timothy, while at Ephesus, “As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine,” (1 Tim. 1:3).
Before long men began to put this oral gospel into written form. Luke says that many had undertaken such a task. And those who were divinely chosen and Holy Spirit guided gave us a true story of the gospel of Christ with a divine interpretation.
I.WHY FOUR GOSPELS?
The four gospels were given, that we might have a fourfold picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit, through human authors, has photographed the Lord Jesus from four different angles, viewing Him in four different relationships. Matthew presents Him as King, Mark as servant, Luke as man, and John as God. These four views correspond to the Old Testament predictions of the coming Messiah. “Behold thy King,” (Zech. 9:9): “Behold my servant,” (Isa. 42:1): “Behold the man,” (Zech. 6:12): “Behold your God,” (Isa. 40:9).
These four views also fit the fourfold prophecy of the coming Messiah as the BRANCH. “I will raise unto David a righteous BRANCH, and a king shall reign and prosper,” (Jer. 23:5). “Behold, I will bring forth my servant the BRANCH,” (Zech. 3:8): “Behold the man whose name is the BRANCH,” (Zech. 6:12): “In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious,” (Isa, 4:2): If Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of prophecy, then the New Testament history must be in harmony with Old Testament prophecy concerning Him. No human authors, unless guided by the Holy Spirit, could have made the history fit the prophecy in such pointed detail.
Even a casual reading will reveal that the gospels fall into two divisions: three and one. Matthew, Mark, and Luke may be “seen together.” They present a common view of Christ. They present Him in human and earthly relationships, as king, servant, and man, while John presents Him in divine and heavenly relationships as the Son of God. There has been much said and written about the so-called Synoptic Problem—the problem of agreement and difference—what they have in common and what is peculiar to each. The question concerns the source material of the writers. As students you may have been exposed to the four-document hypothesis of Streeter as well as to the Mark hypothesis, the view that Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke copied from him. Augustine, on the other hand, held that Mark, being the shorter, was a condensation of Matthew.
After reading much of the current debate, concerning the Synoptic Problem, it is my judgment that each writer wrote independently under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, selecting from a common source that which served his particular purpose. If, as some claim, Matthew and Luke copied from Mark, how did it happen that they departed from the copy and wrote a forehistory? Christ told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you,” (John 14:26).
These written gospels were needed to meet the need of three specific groups: Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Matthew, an office holder, wrote for the Jews to show that Jesus was the King of the Jews in fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures. Matthew quotes from or alludes to the Old Testament about sixty-five times. Mark, who was not an apostle but the servant of the apostle Peter, was chosen to write his gospel to present Jesus as the Servant of God. There is very good evidence that Mark wrote by way of interpreting the sermons of Peter, and that he wrote at the request of Roman believers. In keeping with the purpose of his gospel, he presents Jesus as a doer, and his gospel is the gospel of deeds. Mark has no genealogy for the reason that pedigree is not important in a servant. Luke tells of many who had undertaken to put in narrative form what had been told by eyewitnesses, who must have been the apostles, since they had been with Christ from the beginning. Luke presents Jesus as the perfect man. His gospel is the gospel of redemption. “And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem,” (Luke 2:38); “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel,” (Luke 24:21); “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh,” (Luke 21:28). Luke makes much of prayer. He wrote to confirm Theophilus in the Christian faith. The name of Luke occurs only in Paul’s epistles. “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you,” (Col. 4:14); “Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry,” (2 Tim. 4:11); “Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow laborers,” (Philemon. 24). We know that the writer of Acts also wrote the gospel of Luke, and the “we” sections of Acts indicate that the writer was a companion of Paul on his journeys, and this fact points to Luke. Tradition also ascribes the book to Luke. Luke wrote for Gentiles. He closes Acts by leaving Paul in the Roman prison for two years.
THE NEED OF WRITTEN GOSPELS
Human memory is not sufficient for the propagation of the true gospel. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would be their teacher and bring to their remembrance what He had said. And so the gospels do not give us what men, of themselves, remembered, but what the Holy Spirit brought to their remembrance.
Bible translators have discovered that the oral gospel cannot be propagated from memory. People who hear the gospel and do not have it written in their own language will soon preach a distortion of the truth. The Ixil Indians of Guatemala have had an oral tradition of the gospel for 400 years, and today it is but a travesty of the simplest gospel facts. According to their oral gospel, God is an old man unable to govern His world and has turned it over to His strong Son to keep order. They have a story of Jesus being captured by some Jews who tied Him up in a corner and sat down to celebrate with a pot of chicken stew. When Jesus blessed the chicken it jumped in the pot, splashing the stew into the eyes of the Jews. And while they were wiping their eyes, Jesus escaped. Another story current among these Indians is that the twelve apostles hung Jesus on the cross.
The Wycliffe Bible Translators are diligent in their work of translating God’s Word for Bibleless tribes. There are some two thousand languages spoken in the world today that are still without a single verse of Scripture. About eleven hundred and twenty-seven languages have the Scriptures in whole or in part, and only two hundred and fifteen have the whole Bible.
III.THE GENEALOGIES IN MATTHEW AND LUKE
We meet with difficulty here, but the most probable view is that Matthew, presenting Jesus as King, gives the legal genealogy through Joseph; Luke, presenting Him as Son of Man, gives the real or natural genealogy through Mary. Matthew shows Jesus to be the legal heir to the promises made to Abraham and David. The genealogy in Matthew is abridged, divided into three unequal periods of fourteen generations each— forty-two generations covering two thousand years. The first period of fourteen generations covers one thousand years; the second period of fourteen generations covers four hundred years; and the third period covers six hundred years. Matthew is descending, using the word “begat,” while Luke is ascending, using the phrase, “was the son of.” From David the two genealogies are separate and diverging lines, touching only in Salathiel and Zorobabel.
We might ask why there are only four gospels. There were many more to start with “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,” (Luke 1:1). The first century of the Christian era was one of great literary activity. It was the age of Cicero, Virgil, Horace. Seneca, Tacitus, Plutarch, Pliny, and Josephus. Within a generation the story of Jesus spread over the whole known world, and enlisted thousands of devoted followers. Naturally, there arose a great demand for written narratives of His life. Luke, observing this, has a desire to give his account of the things about Jesus Christ which were “most surely believed among us.” Only four of these narratives have survived the ravages of time. God Himself took a hand in the preparation and preservation of the four we have in the New Testament, and these give us all we need to know about the earthly life of our Saviour.
THE FOUR GOSPELS COMPARED
The four gospels are parallel accounts of the same person, narrating in the main the same things, complementing one another, but without any serious conflict.
Only Matthew and Luke tell of the birth and childhood of Jesus. Matthew and Mark dwell on the Galilean ministry, Luke on the Perean, and John on the Judean. John omits most of the Galilean ministry, and records visits to Jerusalem which the others omit. The others omit the Judean ministry except the last week, which all four give rather fully. The last week of our Lord’s life on earth occupies about one third of Matthew, one third of Mark, one fourth of Luke, and one half of John. John devotes seven chapters, one third of his gospel, to what occurred on the day of crucifixion, sunset to sunset. This suggests the importance of the death of Jesus. But in spite of this, there is a growing tendency to depart from the doctrine of blood atonement. A professor has recently been dismissed from the faculty of New Orleans Baptist Seminary for repudiating vital gospel truths. This man complains that some of us are making too much of the death of Jesus. He says that “nothing but” in the hymn, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus,” produces a theology of the cross which leads to a distortion of the Christian faith. This man, who has been teaching Baptist preachers, does not believe in the inspiration of the Bible. He makes bold to say, that we must not speak of the Bible as the Word of God in the sense that it consists of infallible, revealed truth given to men in written form. And again he says, that to equate the word of God with the Bible is a distortion because to do so is to identify the word of God with human reason and human words. No wonder that when a man denies the Bible as the word of God, he also denies every fundamental of the faith. This man denies the immortality of the human soul, and rejects the doctrine of eternal punishment, holding that the unbeliever is destined for total destruction of being.
God be thanked for the many who still believe the Bible to be the inspired, infallible Word of God! And young men, if you ever lose faith in the trustworthiness of the Bible, get out of the ministry and give up the bread of the church.
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