Thursday, September 24, 2009



“OK, I understand that the first and thickest part of the Bible is the Old Testament, all about what happened from when God made the world until Jesus was born. Now let’s talk about the New Testament, Grandma--you promised. I’m looking at your big Bible now—there are four books in the beginning of the second part.”

“Those are called the four Gospels, the stories about Jesus’ life and the things he taught about God. The word gospel means ‘good news.’ You know what a biography is, right? And the difference between that and an autobiography?”

“Yes. If Jesus wrote it himself, it would be an autobiography. Like the book you wrote about your life, Grandma. But why are there four gospels? Are they all different?”

“Think about it this way, Jeffrey: If four people each wrote a story about the life of one of your teachers at school—for instance her mother, her sister, her husband, and her daughter—they would all be true but they wouldn’t be the same. Each would know her in a different way, under different circumstances and at different times. They would write certain things that they thought were important about her.”

“Who wrote these Jesus stories? Did they all know Jesus personally?”

“Matthew was a follower of Jesus and knew him during the last three years of his life; John also was a follower, a disciple, as they were called. The word means ‘student.’ Mark was the youngest writer, and he may or may not have known Jesus, but he was a student of Peter, who was one of the closest companions of Jesus. Luke never met Jesus and possibly didn’t live where all these events took place. He was not Jewish like the other three writers, so he had to do a lot of firsthand research and interview people who knew Jesus well, probably including Jesus’ mother Mary. They each wrote biographies of Jesus for different readers so they picked different details to emphasize.”

“Did Jesus have the Old Testament to read? What language was it written in?”

“People didn’t have books with covers and pages inside like we have. You probably learned in school about papyrus scrolls on which history and records were written. Jesus learned the Jewish Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, in the Hebrew language in the schools for Jewish boys taught by a Rabbi. He was like a Jewish priest. Jewish people worshiped God in places called Synagogues where the copies of the Scriptures were kept to be read out loud. No one would have a personal copy of the scrolls. The printing press was not invented until….”

“Wait! I know about that from school! Gutenberg invented the first printing press for movable type in 1440 in Germany.”

“You got that right! The New Testament books were not put together until more than 300 years after Jesus died. When it was joined to the Old Testament, the two were called the Bible. Because it was meant to be read aloud in Christian worship, people normally listened to the Bible. There weren’t many copies of the scrolls. For centuries scrolls were copied by hand onto other scrolls in monasteries. Even after presses were invented and some Bibles printed, most people couldn’t read or write.”

“Why not, Grandma? Weren’t people smart enough to learn back then?”

“Only the rich class of people could afford to go to school in those early centuries. Without public education common people didn’t have a chance for an education. Nevertheless, common people were intelligent and very clever in their daily life and work. Institutions connected with the Church were the main places to receive an education. Many did become highly educated, in fact, were brilliant and gifted in their knowledge and understanding of the world, science, astronomy, and math. Anyway, the first books to be printed were so expensive no ordinary folks could afford them.”

“Hold on. Since you said it was so long after Jesus lived before the New Testament was put together, how did people learn about Jesus during all those years?”

“After Jesus resurrection, before He went to heaven, He told His disciples (now they are called ‘apostles’ because they were sent on a mission) to go everywhere in the world and tell everyone the Good News that He died for them. And that if they believed in Him, were truly sorry for their sins, and were baptized, that their sins could be forgiven and they could go to heaven.”

“Did they really do it, Grandma, without having any tech stuff like radio, television, Internet, or printed books—or cars or planes to take them anywhere?”

“They did that faithfully by preaching—by the words they spoke—and mostly walking or by long, dangerous voyages by ship. Before long the Good News of the Gospel spread not only all over the land where Jesus lived but throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.”

“How could just a few apostles do all that by themselves?”

“They couldn’t—but they taught everything they knew about Jesus and His teachings to other faithful Christians—who then taught other people, and the Good News traveled everywhere.”

“What are those other books in the New Testament beside the four Gospels?”

“The book of Acts tells us the history of how the Gospel spread and how the early churches were started. Because of the distance and lack of communication, the Apostles couldn’t keep visiting all the new believers in person. Some Apostles wrote letters to the churches they founded in other cities and countries to encourage the new Christians, settle problems, and tell them what the true teaching of Jesus was on certain questions that came up. Their letters, like the four Gospels, were meant to be read aloud when the Christians got together for worship. Some of the most important letters to the new churches were written by the Apostle Paul.”

“I thought there were only twelve Apostles. Who was Paul?”

“He was a highly educated Jewish leader who didn’t know Jesus or believe in Him. After Jesus went to heaven, Paul tried to drag the new Christians into prison or kill them to stop the spread of Jesus’ teaching. By a miracle Jesus appeared in a vision to Paul and told him He had chosen him to preach the Gospel to the non-Jewish people. Paul stopped killing the Christians and became a follower of Jesus and one of the greatest Apostles.”

“What’s that last book in the New Testament called ‘The Revelation’ ? Is it another letter?”

“It is a very different kind of book, full of symbols and visions. Actually it is Jesus’ revelation or explanation to John, an Apostle of Jesus, given to him during his old age. Jesus reveals what is going to happen to all creation in the future. Jesus will come back again at the end of the world and create a new heaven and earth. It is called a book of prophecy, telling us what is coming. Jesus tells John to write it so that Christians in all the ages to come will know that Jesus will defeat all evil in the end and establish the marvelous Kingdom of God. It’s a celebration of Jesus’ victory.”

“Whew! I think it will take forever to learn all about what Jesus has to teach us!”

“God doesn’t expect us to learn it all at once, Jeffrey. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit who came to live in us when we were baptized would help us to understand the truth—one step at a time. And Jesus gave us our Church to teach us. We have lots of help!”