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The Scriptures, the Bible, the New Testament, the Gospels, and the gospel

Posted by on Aug 19, 2013 in scripture | 15 comments

The Scriptures, the Bible, the New Testament, the Gospels, and the gospel

Last week, during a discussion of 2 Timothy 2:15 and especially the phrase “word of truth,” I said that I did not believe that the phrase referred to “the Scriptures” or “the Bible.” Instead, based on other uses of the phrase “word of truth,” I suggested that the phrase referred to the gospel.

In response, Jim asked several questions in a comment related to my understanding of the gospel, the New Testament, the Scriptures, etc. Instead of answering the questions in a comment, I decided to put together another blog series looking into the various related (but also different) terms.

In this series, I’m going to explain my use of the terms Scriptures, Bible, the New Testament (and the Old Testament), the Gospels, and the gospel. Where possible, I’ll give examples from Scripture (the Bible) in which the terms are used in a similar manner to the way that I used them. Also, I’ll also provide some historical usage of the terms where applicable.

I think we have to be very careful when we use these terms, especially when interpreting passages of Scripture (such as 2 Timothy 2:15, but also many other passages).

Also, it’s important to recognize that the referent (what the terms refer to) for some of the terms change with time, and it’s important to recognize that through time (and even today) there was/is not always agreement among followers of Jesus Christ as to what the terms refer to.

As I begin this study, I’d love to hear how you use these terms:
1) The Scriptures
2) The Bible
3) The New Testament
4) The Gospels
5) The gospel


15 Comments

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  1. 8-19-2013

    I don’t disagree with you per se, but I do wonder about how one extricates “the gospel” from the rest of what scripture has to say – where does the message of the “the gospel” begin and end, and how is it distinct from the rest of say, the New Testament?

    Since “the gospel” seems to be a wide and varied topic that has multitudinous roots that spread out to encompass almost any major (and many minor) topics and points of things the Bible talks about, how does one distinguish one from the other?

    Four entire books of the NT are in fact entitled “gospels according to…” which only underscores how encompassing the content of “the gospel” really is….

  2. 8-19-2013

    Erica,

    Did you know that the books we call “the Gospels [according to]” (i.e., Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) have been called by other names through history? They were not always called “The Gospel according to X,” and that title is not part of the original Greek text but was added later.

    -Alan

  3. 8-19-2013

    I am thinking the use of these terms for me would be more stringently chosen/defined depending on where I am using them. Whether or not they are being used in conversation or writing a treatise of types.
    For me I mostly use The Scriptures and The Bible synonymous. The New Testament when referring to the entire 27 books of the NT. The Gospels when referring to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The gospel when referring to the sap of the NT, the message of the Kingdom of God in the Face of Christ (death, burial, resurrection, purpose of God in Christ).

  4. 8-19-2013

    It is my understanding that any speaker or writer reserves the right to “define his terms” defending his opinion in what he says and writes … in fact, the first rule of debate is: Define Your Terms! However, defining of terms must be done BEFORE one’s presentation so that everyone is on the same page at the time of the presentation. To present an opinion and then work backwards to define the terms is new and confusing to me.

  5. 8-19-2013

    Alan – regardless of what “the gospels” were termed originally, the fact that anyone would go on in history to later name them “the gospel according to….” just unscores how interwoven the concept of “gospel” in the Christian sense is with a very broad inclusion of scriptural concepts, doesn’t it?

    At any rate, please refer back to the bulk of my earlier comment, not just the last line! I’m really wanting to hear how you would respond to the rest of what I’ve posed as a difficulty – as I said before, I don’t actually disagree with you, so these questions stand as things I’ve wrestled with as I’ve shared the same idea you are positing here with others and gotten pushback from them.

  6. 8-19-2013

    Seth,

    I think your point about context is a good one. However, I’m trying to be more careful about how I use some of these terms in casual conversation.

    Peter,

    I’m not sure that I understand your point in your comment. Part of the reason for this series is to define terms.

    Erica,

    Actually, I think that it does matter that the titles “The Gospel According to X” was added many years after the books had already been written.

    As to the first part of your comment… that’s part of the reason for this series. I’ll be unpacking my answers to those questions in the new few blog posts. :)

    -Alan

  7. 8-20-2013

    Sorry I haven’t kept up with all of the 2 Timothy posts and comments – some but not all.

    I think the “word of truth” is a person – not a study. I think “the gospel” is the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s a story about God in all of His glory coming to earth and meeting man in all of his depravity. The “good news” is not a set of rules that man must keep – it’s a person who man must meet. The “good news” is not a collection of scripture or a “body of knowledge”, it’s a story. His Story (history) as some would say.

    1 John 1:1-4 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the WORD OF LIFE ….

    John 1:1-14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life; and that life was the light of men….

    And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

    Intellectuals jump into the Greek and Hebrew and if that helps you to find Him – then Hallelujah !!!! However, if we’re not careful – we just end up worshipping our own intellect and never have an encounter or get any closer to Him. That I fear, is academia’s sin. My experience is that academia fosters the worship of man’s intellect. But I know that God is way bigger than man’s softball size brain and well beyond what man can think or comprehend. I’m not against trying to understand the scriptures – but I’d much rather the scriptures came alive in my inner most being – and not just found some room in my brain.

    Jesus is someone we can hear with our ears, and see with our eyes, and look upon, and touch (handle). When we “handle the word of truth” – that is such a rich phrase – we are handling-holding-touching Jesus. Have you touched Jesus lately? You’ll know when you do – His response will be overwhelming to you. We do not serve a God who cannot be touched (handled).

    John is talking about a true witness… not just someone who read about it in a book – but someone who saw, heard, and touched “The WORD”….

    This is what Jesus did for me….. I don’t know about all of that but one thing I do know – I once was blind but now I see…..

    The “gospel” is you telling someone about your encounter with Christ – and it is a very powerful thing. Don’t be shy – be a true witness and tell someone what He’s done for you – how’s He’s helped you – or healed you – or talked to you – or touched you……

    The Word of the Lord CAME TO ME……

  8. 8-20-2013

    Jerry,

    Academic studies, like any other occupation, can be used in service to God or in service to self. I’ve known both kinds of academics, and I’ve known both kinds of carpenters, mechanics, teachers, etc.

    By the way, it’s because of academics that you can quote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was God.” Otherwise, you would have to quote, “ΕΝΑΡΧΗΗΝΟΛΟΓΟΣΚΑΙΟΛΟΓΟΣΗΝΠΡΟΣΤΟΝΘΝΚΑΙΘΣΗΝΟΛΟΓΟΣ”… if you had the parchment to begin with.

    So, yes, like all other followers of Jesus Christ, those in academia must be careful to keep their focus on Jesus Christ. But we should also recognize that those who study the languages, histories, cultures, etc. of the OT and NT academically are beneficial.

    All that said, none of this is helpful if it does not help us understand, know, and follow Jesus Christ.

    -Alan

  9. 8-20-2013

    Hi Allen

    I think that the Word of God/Life is a living breathing person i.e. Jesus Christ.

    The scriptures/gospels/Bible/New testament etc. contain the narrative story of who He/the Father/Holy Spirit are & how they interact with all of mankind. I have to agree with what one of the brothers said, that all of these are pointing to a relationship with Him, the whole purpose of why God created us in the first place.

    IN CHRIST,
    David H. Lucas
    Merritt Island, Fl.

  10. 8-20-2013

    Yes Alan – I am so thankful for the true rebels of the faith who stood up against the church leaders of their time and translated the scriptures into a language that common people could read. The translators believe that if they could get the scriptures into people’s own language – then the word itself would bring light to the reader’s eyes. Yes – thank God – tranlators are Hobbits who’s knowledge doesn’t seem to send them on a power trip – but enables them to help others with their intellectual passion and work. Academics in service to God as you say.

    The philosophy that they fought against was the idea that you had to be an ordained priest with years of study – or that you needed a PhD to interpret what the scripture says. The translators thought as I do – that God would make Himself known to the reader thru the reading of the scripture. They were probably one of the biggest enablers of believers to free themselves from the power brokers – or the Academic people who weren’t really in service to God – but service to themself as you say.

    Saying all of that – the scripture is spiritiually discerned – not intellectually discerned. Wesley thought you should read the scripture on your knees asking God for the illumination – and I agree. Scripture itself says that in mulitple places. “The Greek” these days is just a couple clicks away from anyone who wants it – now that is awesome…. but true understanding is just a prayer away… and that is even more awesome.

  11. 8-20-2013

    David,

    In Scripture, the phrase “word of God” does often refer to Jesus Christ. I like you description of the Scriptures/Gospels/Bible/New testament.

    Jerry,

    I don’t know if we can make those statements about all translators. But, it seems that most certainly see a benefit in having the Scriptures in modern languages. But, like you point out, translating Scripture and understanding Scripture are two different things.

    -Alan

  12. 8-20-2013

    Hello Alan,

    I’m curious on how you understand how the whole Bible is broken up in parts, one thing I do in research is ask a vary important question, TO WHOM IS IT WRITTEN TO–A Biblical Key–

    And wow, I didn’t think people really cared about this issue, there’s some real passion going on here.

    Jim

  13. 8-21-2013

    Jim,

    The Scriptures were originally divided differently than it is today. The OT was divided into Law, Prophets, and Writings. This changed when it was translated into Greek. The NT was originally divided in Gospels, Acts/General Letters, Paul’s Letters (including Hebrews), and Revelation (often in that order, but sometimes in other orders). The various books were not found outside of their particular collection (i.e., you wouldn’t find Matthew connected to James).

    I think there was a reason for collecting the books in this way. Whether or not the collections and orders are necessary or not, I don’t know. But, arguing for a particular order or grouping must deal with the way they were originally distributed and circulated.

    -Alan

  14. 8-22-2013

    Thanks for the meet-up place for us to perform our obligation to edify and build each other up in our most holy faith. I read that we are all equal Believer/Priests, endowed with a measure of faith which makes us all dependent on each other in the faith, that we may all grow in the graces of Christ, eventually becoming a spiritual entity with one collective mind, and one soul “til we all come in the unity of the faith,and of the knowledge(full knowledge) of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. Eph.4:1-13. It is obvious that our mission and service should be toward each other,AND,” God did not put all of His cookies in one jar”. Regardless of superior intellect or academic excellence, the “simplicity which is in Christ” shall always remain. None of the Lord’s Apostolos were schooled exept Paul, and willful human effort to obtain Knowledge as described in 2Tim.3:1-7 is the apostate man’s foolish knostic delusion of trying to pick God’s brain, as by rote. One can attend thousands of Bible studies, blogs, discussions and NEVER come to a full and complete (bottom line) Epignosis of the truth. Why? because that is the Holy Spirit’s domain. The Truth cannot fully be apprehended in the mere letter and texting of the Word, the mere surface meanings. This remains a great equalizer in the Body of Christ. The Spirit of God retains the right to reveal each Truth as we are able to receive it, and yes, as ya’ll have said, open the Book as the very face of God, Be very contrite, and follow Him in His written Word always. Grace & peace

  15. 8-22-2013

    Mike,

    I don’t think the problem is scholarship per se, either as a vocation or just as an interest. Any vocation or interest or hobby can take someone’s focus off of Jesus Christ. The same is true for academia/scholarship/study. However, it’s not necessary. I know many scholars who would agree with you (and me) that true understanding comes only by the Holy Spirit.

    -Alan