After Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection he commissions his disciples to take the gospel “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). And they do just that.
Those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and works travel throughout the Roman Empire, telling stories about him: What he said, what he did, miracles he performed, conversations and debates he had. Over time, those oral stories take on shape and form—not changing from telling to telling, as many insist—but solidifying into a standardized form.
By the early to mid-60s—30 years after Jesus’ life on earth—the eyewitness generation begins to die off, through natural death and through periodic persecutions, such as that of the Roman Emperor Nero (A.D. 64 – 68). With the eyewitness generation disappearing it seemed wise to write the stories down, lest they be lost. Thus the first written Gospels emerge.
Matthew, Mark and Luke—the synoptic Gospels (syn = “same,” as in synonym; optic = “eye”—“seen with the same eye”)—organize the oral stories about Jesus and present them from three different perspectives, for three different audiences, and for three different purposes. The Gospel according to John emerges 20-30 years after the synoptic Gospels, and it is written from an entirely different perspective with an entirely different purpose.
Handwritten on scrolls and later in codex form (like our modern book), the Gospels spread throughout the Roman world as a final, stable text. They are the Gospels we read today.
©2014 William C. Creasy (P)2013 William C. Creasy