The Gospels & History
When God’s Son assumed the form of flesh and entered history, a kind of logic called for his life to assume the form of letters and to enter historiography. The four Gospels were literary extensions, as it were, of the Incarnation. Indeed, for St. Bonaventure, the writing of the Gospels was so “logical” an inference to be drawn from the premise of the Incarnation that he believed exactly four Gospels were required. Why? Because they were applications of Aristotle’s Four Causes!
That inference was not drawn at once, of course, and we are able to trace certain steps in the process. Oral transmission came first. The story of Jesus, before it was recorded on parchment, was told by word of mouth, as we see in the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles (10:36–37; 13:23–25).
St. Mark’s work was the decisive point, apparently, where the proclaimed Gospel was transformed into a written narrative. Indeed, an indication of this transition is the fact that the chronological limits of Mark’s account are identical to those in the apostolic sermons, namely, “all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism by John to the day that he was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21–22). Mark began with John’s baptism and ended with the empty tomb.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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