RPM, Volume 18, Number 8, February 14 to February 20, 2016

Introduction to the New Testament

By Louis Berkhof

Table of Contents:

The Gospels in General
The Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel of Mark
The Gospel of Luke
The Gospel of John
The Acts of the Apostles
The Epistles in General
The Epistles of Paul
The Epistle to the Romans
The First Epistle to the Corinthians
The Second Epistle to the Corinthians
The Epistle to the Galatians
The Epistle to the Ephesians
The Epistle to the Philippians
The Epistle to the Colossians
The First Epistle to the Thessalonians
The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians
The Pastoral Epistles
The First Epistle to Timothy
The Second Epistle to Timothy
The Epistle to Titus
The Epistle to Philemon
The Epistle to the Hebrews
The General Epistle of James
The First General Epistle of Peter
The Second General Epistle of Peter
The First General Epistle of John
The Second and Third General Epistles of John
The General Epistle of Jude
The Revelation of John


The Gospels have a literary character all their own; they are sui generis. There is not another book or group of books in the Bible to which they can be compared. They are four and yet one in a very essential sense; they express four sides of the one euangelion of Jesus Christ. In studying them the question naturally arises, how we must conceive of them. Now we need not argue that they are not mere collections of myths and fables, with or without a historical basis, as many Rationalists would have us believe. Nor is it necessary to show at length that they are not four biographies of Jesus. If their authors intended them to be such, they would be very disappointing indeed. There is, however, another misconception against which we must warn, because it is quite prevalent in the circles of those who accept these writings unquestionably as a part of the Word of God, and since it is a positive hindrance to a true understanding of these priceless records. We refer to the conviction that the writers of the Gospels were minded to prepare for following generations more or less complete histories of the life of Christ. In reading these writings we soon find that, looked at as histories, they leave a great deal to be desired. In the first place they tell us comparitively little of that rich and varied life of Christ, of which they knew so much, Cf. John 20: 30; 21: 25. The historical facts narrated by John f. i. only represent the work of a few days. His Gospel would thus be a life of Jesus with yawning gaps. The same is true of the other Gospels. In the second place the materials, except those at the beginning and at the end of Christs life are not arranged in chronological order. Any possible doubt that we may have on this point is soon dispelled, when we compare the Gospels. The same facts are often narrated in altogether different connections. Closely allied with this is a third feature that deserves attention. The casual relation of the important events that are narrated is not traced, except in a few instances, and yet this just what one expects in histories. And finally if they were really meant to be histories, why was it necessary that we should have four of them?

The harmonists generally proceeded on the erroneous conception to which we refer. They were aware indeed that there were great lacunae in all the Gospels, but thought they might remedy matters by supplying from one Gospel what was wanting in the other. Thus the relation of the Gospels to one another was conceived of as supplemental. But their work was doomed to failure; it did violence to the exquisite compositions on which they operated, and marred the characteristic beauty of those literary productions. They were always uncertain as to the true order of events, and did not know which one of the evangelists was the best chronological guide. Some preferred Matthew, others chose Mark, and still others followed Luke. And after all their efforts to combine the four Gospels into one continuous narrative with the facts arranged in the exact order in which they occurred, their work must be pronounced a failure. The Gospels are not histories of the life of Christ, nor do they, taken together, form one history.

But what are they, if they are neither biographies nor histories? They are four pen-pictures, or better, a four fold portraiture of the Saviour a fourfold representation of the apostolic kērugma; fourfold witness regarding our Lord. It is said that the great artist Van Dyke prepared a threefold portrait of Charles I for the sculptor, that the latter might fashion an absolutely faithful likeness of the king. These three portraits were necessary; their differences and agreements were all required to give a true representation of the monarch. So it is in the case of the Gospels. Each one of them gives us a certain view of the Lord, and only the four taken together present to us his perfect likeness, revealing him as the Saviour of the world. The apostolic chērugma had taken a wide flight. Its central content was the cross and the resurrection. But in connection with this the words and deeds of the Saviour and his history also formed the subject of the apostles preaching. And when this apostolic chērugma was reduced to writing, it was found necessary to give it a fourfold form, that it might answer to the needs of four classes of people viz. to those of the Jews, to those of the Romans, to those of the Greeks and to those of the people who confessed Christ as Lord; needs that were typical of the spiritual requirements of all future ages. Matthew wrote for the Jews and characterized Christ as the great King of the house of David. Mark composed his Gospel for the Romans and pictured the Saviour as the mighty Worker, triumphing over sin and evil. Luke in writing his Gospel had in mind the needs of the Greeks and portrayed Christ as the perfect man, the universal Saviour. And John, composing his Gospel for those who already had a saving knowledge of the Lord and stood in need of a more profound understanding of the essential character of Jesus, emphasized the divinity of Christ, the glory that was manifested in his works. Each Gospel is complete in itself and acquaints us with a certain aspect of the Lords life. Yet it is only the fourfold Gospel that furnishes us with a complete, a perfect image of him whom to know is life eternal. And it is only, when we grasp the different features that are mirrored in the Gospels and see how they blend harmoniously in that noblest of all lives, the life of Christ, that we have found the true harmony of the Gospels.

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