This article is part 1 of an 8 part series. Go forward to part 2.
We have four gospels that tell us about Jesus. But they do not all record the same story. It is interesting to see what each writer thought was important to highlight that the others did not highlight. But there are only eleven common events recorded in all four gospels. These are the essential elements that every writer considered important.
Most of what Jesus did was relatively unimportant. Only a few details of Jesus’ life were critical. In order to understand the life of Jesus, one must understand the historical context, the Old Testament, as we know it. The letters in the New Testament are important and helpful teachings, but one does not need any of them to access the central truths of Christ’s message.
In the article “Is the Bible Special?“, Ian writes:
The average person would simply not make it through the bible, and most of the few who did would be utterly baffled at what the fuss is about.
And nestled in the comments on that article is this gem by sido:
If the Bible has a series of commands for believers to follow, was it in the interest of say Christ or his Apostles in creating a book like the Bible for following generations? The teachings of the Bible don’t call for such actions, or show any signs that such a project was in progress at the time. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that a book like this will be left for us to follow.
It is simply basic fact that neither Jesus, nor his disciples, nor the apostles, called for the construction of a holy book. Apart from the resurrection of Jesus, there is nothing exceptional about the New Testament.¹ Jesus did affirm the validity of the Jewish scriptures, clarifying its purpose and essence, but nowhere did he teach that something more was needed. Everything meaningful about the Jesus can be understood in light of the Jewish scriptures.
The gospels merely inform and they would do so even if our New Testament consisted of a single gospel. The message of Jesus is a simple one that even children can understand and there are relatively few critical points. This is the thesis behind this series on the life of Jesus.
The Pre-Ministry of Jesus
There are a number of stories about Jesus prior to the start of his ministry. None show up in every gospel. It would take too long to discuss every difference, so instead I will focus on just a few.
The birth narratives and early stories of Jesus’ childhood are interesting from a historical perspective, but are not essential theologically. Jesus placed all the emphasis on being God’s Son. We don’t need a virgin birth, choirs of angels, or visiting Zoroastrian priests. That Jesus was the Christ (or Messiah) is the essential point.²
Another feature that is often overlooked are the two genealogies of Jesus. The one showing the blood ties of Jesus to David (through Mary’s family), the other showing the familial ties (through Joseph and thus the legal rights of inheritance). No doubt these were essential points that needed to be made to those who cared about such things, but we no longer consider them to be essential today. They establish fulfillment of a legal requirement to be the Messiah. That is all.
Things get much more important as we discuss the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, which will be covered in the next part.
¹ This is certainly debatable, but it is not an essential point, so I will not do so here. The validity of Christianity rests solely on the validity of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
² This is troubling to the doctrine of the Trinity that relies on complex theologies about pre-existence and why the Son is God. Proponents of this theology insist that this is essential for salvation, yet another point Jesus himself never taught.