The Four Greatest Stories Ever Told
Welcome to The Four Witnesses. I hope you will enjoy reading this book as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Of one thing you can, I think, be confident: You are the sort of reader for whom I have been writing. For you know the book's title and theme, you have picked it up and looked inside. To have just that much interest in Jesus and the gospels - even if you have never opened the gospels themselves - is enough; it is the enjoyment of such readers as yourself that I have had in mind. You may in the past have found Jesus enthralling or frightening, comforting or simply bemusing. There are good grounds within the gospels themselves for every such response. You may know the story of Jesus like the back of your hand; you may know just its outline; or you may give it a thought only when Easter and Christmas come around. Jesus himself asked, "Who do you say I am?" If his question has ever intrigued you - if it has ever just caught your imagination - then this book has been written for you.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John: The names stand on the title pages of the gospels, four of the most influential books in the world. But who were these four writers? Where did they write and when? For whom? Here in these four short books, as the motto has it, is "The Greatest Story Ever Told." The description is familiar enough, but it is oddly misleading. The story told in each gospel is certainly as gripping and dramatic as any we could hope to hear. But the gospels give strikingly different versions of the same events.
"Who do you say I am?" Jesus himself poses the question. Each gospel offers its own answer. Here are four takes on the extraordinarily exciting and poignant story of Jesus, perhaps the most famous life ever lived on earth. Faced with four such versions, some readers have readjust one gospel and left the others aside; others have looked for a summary that merges everything in the four accounts into a single biography; others again have contrasted the different gospels' stories to see what single sequence of events and teaching, however meager, might underlie them all. But a further, more satisfying and finally more exciting -- possibility lies open: to take each one of the four stories on its own terms. Each portrays Jesus from a particular angle and with particular questions in mind. Some are questions to which the story of Jesus had already given rise within a few years of his death; others are questions -- deep questions as vivid now as they were then-to which, so his followers thought, this Jesus offered the answer.
Confronted as readers with all four gospels, we might think of ourselves as detectives on a case. To understand and assess the depositions put before us, we need (as any such detective needs) to know who these witnesses are, what makes them tick, what are the needs and purposes of their own that shape the evidence they offer. In The Four Witnesses we will hear afresh the story of Jesus. We will hear, too, of the decades that gave rise to these four gospels. Rome burned, Jerusalem was destroyed, the church felt the first pains of persecution. In The Four Witnesses a whole empire comes before our eyes: from rural Galilee to Rome itself, greatest city of the ancient world; from Jewish fishermen to the Emperor. When the cast of this drama comes alive, so can the stories come alive that were written to encourage those who were living, thinking-and suffering-through these dangerous years.
The differences among our four witnesses do not lie just in details. Most telling are the distinctive flavor and shape of each gospel. Each gospel is remarkable in itself and is all the more striking when seen beside its neighbors. We need to took at them in turn. One of our most rewarding tactics will be to watch our authors edit the stories that they knew from those who had written before them. Each turns and shapes the stories to meet the needs of his own church. Readers need not be surprised, then, that we explore Mattes gospel before Matthew's. For Mark's gospel, it seems likely, was finished first, some thirty years after Jesus' death; here in The Four Witnesses we shall start with his evidence. Matthew and Luke both used Marks testimony, as well as other sources, when writing their own. We introduce them next. Finally, John: He stands slightly apart. His community had developed a different style of storytelling; if he did have any of our other three gospels before him as he wrote, he remolded their stories freely.
Copyright Robin Griffith Jones 2000. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher - Harper Collins.
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