You are on page 1of 6



Handout 2 Background History and the Gospels

Recap from last week My basic deal Interpretation is at the very essence of all interpersonal communication

Interpreting each other takes effort

Interpreting the Bible will take a bit of effort.

Translations, Translations, Translations

Most of us have to rely on them (we dont know the ancient languages)

Does the Bible get distorted in translation?

Not that I can see

Why so many English translations?

Firstly translating from one language into another is not an easy task. Not everything can come across in one translation. How do you translate rhyme? How do you translate idioms (idiom = A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words)

Second the English language is constantly changing. King James Version originally designed to be in the vulgar language of the day. Now it sounds elevated and posh.

What translation should I read?

Three good translations (my own personal preference) Holman Christian Standard Bible New International Version English Standard Version. Finding things hard to read New Living Translation.

The Back-Story to the New Testament

When the Old Testament closes in Malachi: Gods Word is being written in Hebrew The people who are ruling over Israel are the Persians modern day Iran There are no Pharisees or Sadducees.

When the New Testament comes to be written: It is written in Greek, even though Jesus probably spoke Aramaic as his primary language. Jesus is in constant conflict with particular Jewish groups like Sadducees and Pharisees. And we know of other Jewish groups who arent specifically mentioned in the New Testament The people who are ruling over Israel are the Roman Empire, which is all the way over in the West, not the East.

What happened?

What was the result?

Hellenism = the spread of Greek education, culture, and language

So this is great for world history, but how does it affect our reading of the New Testament?

The change in language to Greek

Political impact Israel between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies

The Maccabean Revolt (167-164 BC)

Rome arrives in 63 BC.

Basic timeline 539-331 BC 331-164 BC 164 63 BC 63BC AD70 Persians in Control of Israel Various Greek (Hellenistic) powers in control Independence for Israel under their own rulers (Hasmoneans) Romans in control

The Fragmenting of Judaism into Judaisms.



The problem of understanding the Pharisees and their emphasis on rules.

Introduction to the Gospels One Jesus, Four Stories

What do you mean there are differences between the portraits?

Matthew, Mark and Luke = Synoptics

Even amongst the three Synoptics, and even when they share a story, we sometimes find differences: o Differences in sequence (where an event is placed in relation to other events) o Differences in wording o Differences in length (i.e. Matthew often gives shorter accounts than Mark)

So what did Jesus exactly say?

Why the differences?

Different Gospels Different Emphasis.

Difference is NOT the same thing as contradiction.

How do we work out the particular emphasis of each Gospel?

Read them and see what they include, what they exclude, how they tell the story, which characters are focussed upon.

Tips for reading a Gospel:

1. Read the whole thing, preferably in one or two sittings 2. Do your best to note the narrative structure of the Gospel a. does the writer clump certain types of events together? b. There are many helpful books that will give you a basic understanding of structure, but perhaps the best place to start is Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book (Zondervan). 3. When reading an individual story or saying, remember to situate it within the context of the whole book and its perspective on Jesus. a. If the individual story or saying has a counterpart in another Gospel, compare how it is recorded. Is there any particular emphasis you can pick up in the particular account you are reading. b. If the individual story of saying is unique to the gospel, what emphasis might this be making, given that this gospel writer included it, but the others didnt. 4. There are special tips you need for understanding the parables, which we will do in the coming weeks.