Introducing Jesus. Well, his gospels. Well, him too.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 October

The four different perspectives on Jesus.

Mark 1.1 • Matthew 1.1 • Luke 1.1-4 • John 1.1-18

Mark 1.1 KWL
1 The start of the gospel of Christ Jesus, son of God.
Luke 1.1-4 KWL
1 Because many attempted to compose a narrative
about the things which had been fulfilled in our religion,
2 just as the first eyewitnesses handed things down to us
and became servants of the word,
3 I also thought, having closely, accurately followed everything from the start;
I wrote you, honorable Theófilus, 4 so you could know about what you were taught.
An accurate word.
Matthew 1.1 KWL
1 The book of the genesis of Christ Jesus,
bar David, bar Abraham.

These are the introductions to the synoptic gospels, the three gospels in the New Testament which tend to sync up with one another. Obviously there are differences in their intros. Mark starts abruptly, and in the very next verse gets straight away to John the Baptist, who leads into the story of Jesus. Matthew refers to the genesis of Jesus: His ancestry and birth. From here we go to a big list of who begat whom, stretching all the way back to Abraham.

Unlike the others, the author of Luke (what the heck, we’ll assume it’s actually St. Luke, same as the other traditional authors) explained to his recipient exactly why he wrote his gospel. Others have done gospels, but Luke did an extra-thorough job to find the truth and present something accurate we can base our religion upon. So here’s the real history of Christ Jesus. Theófilus might be the recipient’s real name, but in those no-freedom-of-religion days there’s just as much a chance it’s an alias: Theófilus means “God-lover.”

John tends to go its own way, so its introduction is a bit longer and more theological.

John 1.1-18 KWL
1 The word’s in the beginning. The word’s with God. The word is God.
2 He’s in the beginning with God. 3 Everything came to be through him.
Nothing that exists came to be without him. 4 What came to be through him, was life.
Life’s the light of humanity. 5 Light shines in darkness, and darkness can’t get hold of it.
6 A person came who’d been sent by God, named John, 7 who came to testify.
When he testified about the light, everyone might believe because of him.
8 He wasn’t the light, but he’d testify about the light.
9 The actual light, who lights every person, was coming into the world.
10 He’s in the world, and the world came to be through him.
Yet the world doesn’t know him.
11 He came to his own people, and his own people don’t accept him;
12 of those who do accept him, those who put faith in his name,
he gives them power to become God’s children.
13 Not by blood, nor bodily will, nor a man’s will, but generated by God.
14 The word was made flesh. He encamped with us.
We got a good look at his significance—
the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.
15 John testifies about him, saying as he called out, “This is the one I spoke of!
‘The one coming after me has got in front of me’—because he’s first.”
16 All of us received things out of his fullness. Grace after grace:
17 The Law which Moses gave; the grace and truth which Christ Jesus became.
18 Nobody’s ever seen God.
The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God.

It’s deep, so I’ll analyze John’s intro in more detail another time.

3-D Jesus.

Your average Christian, and definitely your average pagan, doesn’t read the bible.

When people do bother to read it, they tend to only stick to favorite passages. Consequently people are only familiar with favorites. I admit, I do the same thing. The more you read Christ Almighty!, the more you’re gonna notice how I tend to quote certain passages a lot more often than others. Not that I’m not digging around the whole of the bible, but I’ve got my favorites, so when I want to prove a point, it’s easier to quote a verse I have in mind, than look up a less-familiar one. We all do it.

But being favorite-focused means we’re not as aware of the bigger picture. Or even know there is a bigger picture. We aren’t aware of God’s complexity. We pay lip service to the idea of God much greater, much bigger, much wiser, much deeper; but we keep acting like we’re a close second. We don’t notice the bible contains multiple accounts of God, multiple points of view of what he’s like. We only zero in on one viewpoint. Mainly Paul’s, or John’s, or Moses’s, or the author of Samuel, or the psalmists. Or our own, which we’ve developed, wrote a book about, and diagrammed with timelines.

This is where Christians get the idea—and preach it, and claim anyone who teaches otherwise is a heretic—that the bible has no contradictions. That everything in the bible lines up perfectly. That any “seeming” discrepancies aren’t really; there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of them. That the bible only gives one worldview. And that Christians are only permitted one worldview… so everybody with different politics, in different denominations, isn’t just wrong, but not even Christian, and probably going to hell.

We reduce God to two dimensions. And he doesn’t even fit in 11.

Yes, 11 dimensions. According to scientists’ M-theory, that’s how many dimensions there are. (In string theory, only 10.) Length, width, depth, duration, and seven further dimensions of possibility, which helps their math make sense. I know; there are plenty of Christians who doubt science ’cause it doesn’t suit their worldview. They only learned three-dimensional math. This is the very problem I’m talking about here. We’ve gotta stop thinking we know it all. We don’t, and we’re never gonna learn better when we assume there’s nothing more to learn.

One of the reasons I’m gonna compare multiple gospels as I go through Jesus’s teachings, is to make it crystal clear: Yeah they line up. But sometimes they contradict. Deliberately: Matthew and Luke both quoted Mark, so they knew Mark’s point of view, yet decided to cast it aside and present their own points of view. Not because Mark was wrong, but because their points of view are just as valid. And according to popular theory, the author of John had read Luke, and actually deigns to correct that gospel by including details Luke didn’t have. Again, not because Luke was wrong, but because John’s view is as valid as Luke’s view.

I know: The idea of more than one point of view, which don’t line up yet they’re all valid, makes some people absolutely bonkers. But that’s reality. Ask any cop collecting eyewitness testimonies. Watch Rashomon. Reality is complicated. And since Jesus is real, and no myth or fairy story, stop treating him like one. Anybody who claims the bible never contradicts itself, either hasn’t read it, or is trying to reduce it down to something they can manage. And it is supposed to manage us. Not the other way round. Get that blindspot out of your worldview.

By comparing these similarities and differences, by dealing with them instead of denying them, we get a fuller picture of Christ Jesus. One viewing angle only gives us a 2-D image. From two angles we get a 3-D image. From four, it still won’t be a complete image—a full hologram or something. We need the Holy Spirit for that. But it’ll be far more comprehensive than taking two images, claiming, “They line up perfectly!… but let’s just tweak this a little,” and Photoshopping away all the parts which don’t overlap so well.

We need to learn Jesus, like God (’cause he is God), is also complex. He doesn’t neatly fit into our categories. He doesn’t always behave as we predict. He’s not always what we expect. We need to stop acting as if we totally get who Jesus is. We need to pursue that “accurate word” Lk 1.4 KWL —that the Jesus we follow isn’t a Jesus we’ve fabricated in our minds, who says and does whatever we imagine. It’s only by reading about the real Jesus, and living in obedience to the real Jesus, that we’ll recognize the voice of the real Jesus when he tells us what to do.