**Another assignment from school. The goal of this paper was to present a synopsis of my view of what the Greek Scriptures present to readers, written as a simple synopsis of facts and themes, but not including any interpretation of what ‘it means.’**
As a cohesive whole, the Greek Scriptures present the mission and message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through various means and with the presentation of facts, the writers’ combined efforts tell the story of a god-man, Jesus Christ, and his followers during the first century. Jesus’ revolutionary identity and work culminated in his death, bodily resurrection, and ascension into heaven, and served to transform individuals and communities. The person and work of Christ were continued through the message and mission concerning him as it was carried out by his followers. Looking forward, the writers of the Greek Scriptures tell how Jesus’ message and mission will continue to work through history and will culminate and climax as Christ returns to the earth bringing judgment upon evil and eternal blessedness for those who have believed in him.
The Person and Work of Christ
The Greek Scriptures begin with four accounts of the life of Christ known as the Gospels. In the Gospels, Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven are recounted by eyewitnesses. The four accounts, written by four authors, were most likely composed at different times and for different reasons over the course of the first century. Though each contains a unique focus and style, the Gospels all contain two major themes: the person of Jesus Christ and the work of Jesus Christ.
The identity of Jesus, a Jewish man born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, is of utmost importance in each Gospel account. Great care is given in the description of Jesus’ birth, which was a virgin birth surrounded by miraculous activity. We receive little information from the writers concerning the childhood of Jesus, and beginning with an event in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve, the writers present Jesus’ identity mostly through Jesus’ own words. As a boy in the temple, Jesus (in essence) remarked, “I am in my Father’s house.” Jesus’ relation to his heavenly father, Yahweh, is the relationship he spoke of most often. The writers record many other of Jesus’ self-descriptions, the substance of which is summarized by saying that Jesus claimed to be Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Scripture. Jesus’ claims of divinity are a hallmark of each Gospel account as each writer presents specific stories and teachings of Jesus to help the reader come to an understanding of his divine identity. Thus, the primary way the writers seek to give evidence of Jesus’ identity is through displaying his works.
The Gospel writers fill the bulk of their texts with the works of Jesus, which contain two major expressions: his actions and his teachings. For the span of Jesus’ public ministry, he moved throughout Galilee and Judea, including Jerusalem, teaching and doing acts of compassion. The writers show that Jesus, the god-man, was on a heavenly mission from his father, who is Yahweh. This relationship is often highlighted when Jesus withdrew to pray and commune with his Father in private. From his communal relationship with Yahweh, Jesus showed ultimate care for and knowledge of all people through various acts that included teaching, performing miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead, etc. The work of Jesus, though received by many, was hated by the religious elite of Judaism. Jesus, however, is not presented as seeking to break ties with Judaism, but as working to reveal the true message and redemptive mission of Yahweh as seen in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus claimed to be the ultimate expression of Yahweh’s love and desire to redeem humanity from sin and death. His claims of intimate knowledge of Yahweh as his father, and further, his claims to be Yahweh drove a wedge between Jesus and the religious elite. The writers use Jesus’ own words to show how if a person cannot recognize Yahweh through Jesus, then that person is unable to recognize Yahweh at all. Tensions culminated as Jesus was put on public trail, tortured, and put to death through crucifixion. After three days in a tomb, Jesus vindicated his message and mission by raising from the dead as he foretold. Jesus then appeared and taught many after his resurrection. This post-resurrection teaching was finalized in a commissioning of his followers to go to all the world and continue his work by multiplying disciples who are instructed in everything that Jesus taught and baptizing them into Jesus name. Jesus also explained how he was going away to his father, but was going to send the Holy Spirit as a helper to all who have come to believe in his life, death, and resurrection as the only path of redemption from sin and death given by Yahweh. Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended to the Father.
The Gospel: Message and Mission
After the ascension of Jesus, the Greek Scriptures provide a synopsis detailing how the original community of believers matured, grew, and handled Jesus’ commission to continue his work and proclaim his message of redemption. On the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ death, the community of believers in Jerusalem was gathered together in prayer and the Holy Spirit filled, or began to personally dwell in, each individual believer. To this community, the Holy Spirit’s activity on Pentecost was the sign from heaven to begin to continue in the work and message of Jesus, which became known as ‘the gospel.’ The gospel contained two primary expressions: the message and the mission.
The message of the gospel began to be proclaimed initially through a man named Peter on Pentecost day. That specific day Jews from abroad, who had gathered for the Jewish holiday, heard the message of Jesus’ person and work, each in their own language, and at least three thousand believed and were baptized. The message of the gospel was proclaimed in Jerusalem by this new believing community and many were continually receiving the gospel message and were baptized. The miraculous signs which Jesus had performed during his ministry accompanied the message of this new community. These signs often brought negative and aggressive attention upon the community from the Jewish religious elite. Even when interrogated and threatened by the Jewish authorities, the leaders of the believing community, called apostles, followed Jesus’ example by insisting that Jesus’ person and work were in accordance with and the fulfillment of the redemptive promises given by Yahweh through the Hebrew Scriptures. Aggression towards the believing community increased, and a young zealous Pharisee, Saul, began a violent campaign against the followers of Jesus. Saul’s aggression and bloodlust forced many to flee Jerusalem. In this diaspora of believers, the mission of the gospel grew as Jesus had instructed when individuals like Philip proclaimed the gospel message beyond Jerusalem. When Philip brought the message of the gospel to the Samaritans many believed and were baptized, thus the believing community grew to include those who were not ethnically pure Jews. The success of the gospel message in Judea and Samaria drew the attention of the persecutor Saul. While on his way to come against the followers of Jesus in Damascus, Saul was confronted by Jesus in an experience that left him temporarily blind. Saul was subsequently converted to faith in Jesus and was baptized. After his conversion, Saul became known as Paul and immediately began to proclaim the gospel message and work for the gospel mission. The community of believers spread and multiplied throughout the Jewish communities of Judea, Samaria, and still north into Syria.
As the believers in Jesus increased, a significant event occurred between the apostle Peter and a believing family of Gentiles in Caesarea. Peter was shown in a unique spiritual encounter how the Gentiles were to be welcomed into the faith without adherence to Jewish tradition and custom. The first gentiles to be formally welcomed into the believing community were the family of the roman centurion, Cornelius, who were ministered to by Peter, received the Holy Spirit, and were baptized. In time, Paul became a key individual who brought the gospel to gentile communities in the Syrian region around the city of Antioch. As the gentile population in the believing communities increased, despite Peter’s experience and Paul’s ministry, a dispute arose as to whether Gentiles ought to adhere to the Law of Moses. The conflict eventually merited a council of elders in Jerusalem. The elders determined that Gentiles were to be welcomed into the faith without any restrictions or requirements of Jewish Law, except that they should abstain from sexual immorality, food that was strangled or sacrificed to idols, and from consuming blood. Those apart of the faith now included Jew, Samaritan, and Gentile. The gospel message then became more solidified in its universal presentation and the gospel mission continued in its expansion.
Paul began traveling and gaining converts farther north from the region of Syria. Paul and his fellow workers spent much time in the cities of Galatia and, in time, a large community developed further east in Ephesus. From Ephesus, Paul continued to journey towards Greece, developing communities of believers along the way. At many places, these workers of the gospel encountered staunch opposition from many different parties. The workers of the gospel often found themselves in prison, yet even there the gospel message was presented and prevailed. Paul eventually made it to Athens, where he preached to the Greek philosophers and thinkers about the ‘unknown God’ and the resurrection of the dead. Outside of Athens, a large community of believers was established in Corinth. Paul, the apostles, and the fellow gospel workers continued in strengthening and ministering throughout all the regions of Judea, Syria, Galatia, Asia (modern day western Turkey), Macedonia and Greece. Paul, upon a return trip to Jerusalem, was imprisoned because of the gospel and put to trial where he appealed his case to Caesar as a Roman citizen. After several defenses before roman rulers and a tumultuous journey, Paul finally arrived in Rome where he stayed as a prisoner in an apartment. While awaiting trial in Rome, Paul spoke to both Jew and Gentile about the gospel message and strengthened the believing community in Rome.
The Body of Christ
Beyond the chronological narrative, a major theme of the Greek Scriptures, seen through the letters written by apostles, is how the communities of believers were established, cared for, and governed. These communities, both in local and universal relation, are described by the apostle Paul as the Body of Christ. In this imagery, the universal body of faith is governed by Christ who is the head. Each member of this body has a specific purpose to fulfill in order for the universal body to function properly. Within local congregations, the same principles are active. The apostolic leaders gave oversight and guidance to the communities abroad and these communities in turn established within themselves elders and other leaders who would serve, guide, and protect their people. Further, amongst these communities, each individual is given purpose and assignment in the local Body of Christ. The result of this distribution of purpose and responsibility were communities of individuals who were personally and corporately living out the gospel mission and proclaiming the gospel message. The letters of the Greek Scripture display how the apostolic leaders held intimate knowledge of the activities, personalities, and current struggles of specific communities. The letters are intensely personal, as Jesus’ leadership was with his disciples during his ministry. The well-being and spiritual health of individuals also play a major role in the content of these letters. Above all, however, the apostles keep with the model set by Jesus in prioritizing an intimate relationship with Yahweh through prayer and devotion to Scripture as the foundation for a fruitful life in the Body of Christ. Therefore, prayers or comments on prayer mark the beginning and end of most of the apostolic letters.
The apprenticeship model set by Jesus in his public ministry is also replicated in the believing communities. This personal apprenticeship approach is most keenly seen in the life of Paul as expressed through the account of his life and observed in the content of his letters. He has many younger men, whom he has taken in to train and teach, that he gives specific and careful attention to. The personal letters of Paul to his apprentices Timothy and Titus display the intimate and familial traits that marked the universal community at that time. The apostles were deeply invested in establishing and empowering leaders in each local community. This intimate apprenticeship model, founded in prayer, is the valued form of leadership and discipleship throughout the Greek Scriptures.
Resurrection and Judgement
Though the chronology of the Greek Scriptures ends in the first century, most of its writers speak of a time when history will culminate and climax with Christ’s return to the earth, an event marked by two major themes: resurrection and judgment. The gospel message contains a linear nature with an ultimate destination and end. The focal point of this specific time in the future is the bodily return of Christ and the bodily resurrection of all the faithful believers throughout history. This return and resurrection are promises spoken of often and are often used to give encouragement to persecuted believers by many of the writers of the Greek Scriptures.
The promises of return and resurrection are often coupled with a message about Christ’s final judgment upon individuals and nations. This judgment is presented in both positive and negative terms. For those of the faith, the final evaluation will bring rewards and crowns as gifts signifying Christ’s pleasure in them, though some will only narrowly escape the ‘flames.’ For those in opposition to Christ, the final evaluation will bring about a reckoning of sin and injustice, expressed through Christ’s wrath. Christ’s judgment is presented as hope for those in the faith and as a warning for those not yet of the faith. This end-time period is described in apocalyptic imagery by the apostle John in his work which details a visionary experience given to him by Christ. In this time of return, resurrection, and final judgment, Christ is presented as a victorious king who cares deeply about justice and the well-being of his people. The Greek Scriptures end with a glorious description of a time when Christ will permanently eliminate evil and death and dwell with his Father and all believing people in an eternal city on the earth forever.