If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. Anne Bradstreet

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Ether 12:27

Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season therof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion. D&C 59:18-20

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Audience? -- Who were the Gospel writers trying to persuade?

I believe the Gospels are intended to be universal -- that is, they can benefit anyone of any persuasion during any time period.  However, I also believe they had intended audiences, a select group of people they particularly wanted to persuade.

While attending BYU and taking the Bible as Literature classes, I learned that many scholars believe that Matthew was written to and for the Jews, Luke to and for the Gentiles, and John to and for the converted disciples.  No one really seems to know who Mark's intended audience was.

I've read the Bible a number of times, and I don't agree with the intended audiences, especially for Matthew and Luke.  I think they have it backwards. Luke's intended audience pretty much is based on his Greek name and that he is writing his Gospel to Theophilus, assumed to be Greek.  But one of the classes I took on Jerusalem through the ages introduced me to the fact that during the Maccabean period, many Jews took Greek names, either simply to make it easier to do business, or in other ways to better assimilate with the Greeks.  In addition, we know the New Testament was written in Greek, that Jesus is the Greek name for Christ, that Paul is the Greek name for Saul, that Matthew is the Greek name for Levi.  Why are we surprised then that Luke is merely the Greek version of his name?  The same may be true for Theophilus.  Furthermore, in Chapter 3, vs. 19 (JST), Luke while specifically mentions that Theophilus is well-acquainted with "the manner of the Jews," and "the custom of their law."  So these two names being Greek is not a good enough reason, in my opinion, to assume that Luke's Gospel was intended specifically for the Gentiles.

Besides audience, the underlying thesis is very important.

  • Matthew's thesis is that Christ is the fulfillment of the Prophets, and is written to those unfamiliar with the Old Testament (Gentiles).
  • Luke's thesis is that Christ fulfills the Mosaic Law, and is written to the learned Jews. 
  • Mark's thesis is that Jesus spoke and acted with Authority and I don't have a clue, so far, who his audience was.
  • John's thesis is that Christ is the Son of God, and his audience also seems to be the learned Jews.
Matthew's lineage for Christ traces back to David and then to Abraham.  This is important because it points to the person unfamiliar with the Old Testament the importance of the Abrahamic covenant and that Christ would come through the lineage of David.  Thus, to the Gentiles he's saying, the Gospel comes to you through the Jews.  He's also giving the lineage that entitles Christ to be King of the Jews, so the Gentiles know that Christ truly is a King.  It's Matthew,not Luke, that includes the visit of the Magi (Gentiles), thus letting the Gentiles know that they have been given a witness of this divine birth.  It's Matthew, not Luke, that provides the account of the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt and the subsequent return, prefiguring the passing of the Gospel from the Jews to the Gentiles.

Luke's lineage for Christ traces back to David, to let the learned Jews know that He is of the proper descent, but then all the way back to Adam.  I believe this is a strong message to the learned Jews that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, is universal.  No longer will Jews be able to claim an exclusive relationship with the God of the Old Testament.  

Matthew repeatedly says that events in Christ's life are the fulfillment of the Prophets, and he says which Prophet, often quoting that prophet.  This would not be necessary if he were specifically addressing the Jews, but quite essential when speaking to the Gentiles, who have no familiarity with the Old Testament.

Luke's approach is little different.  He does occasionally identify a prophetic fulfillment, but he shows that Christ fulfilled every dot and tittle of the Mosaic Law without doing the same.  He simply states what was done without adding, This in fulfillment of the Law of Moses, or something similar.  That to me is the strongest evidence that he was addressing an audience whom he knew to be so familiar with and obsessed with the Law of Moses, that he need not give any references.  In a future article, I'll list all of the elements of the Law of Moses that he shows Christ fulfilling.

More on this subject later . . . 

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