Friday, August 07, 2020

Soteriology As Evidence For The Gospels

A neglected line of evidence for the harmony and historicity of the gospels is their agreement on soteriological issues. I'll cite several examples.

They all approach salvation from a first-century Jewish perspective, as a matter of needing to be reconciled to the God of Israel because of our sin. In all four gospels, Jesus doesn't just lead people to God the Father, but also calls them to himself to an extent unprecedented among the prophets, priests, kings, and other earlier leaders and later church leaders: come to him, believe in him, follow him, he forgives sins, etc. Salvation is framed in terms of being Abraham's children in a spiritual rather than physical sense (Matthew 3:9, Luke 19:9, John 8:39). The redeemed are referred to as children in a broader sense as well, without the connection to Abraham, and as young children in particular (Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:14, Luke 11:13, John 13:33). Salvation involves entrance into the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:20, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:24, John 3:5). All of the gospels portray Jesus' crucifixion as salvific, as illustrated by the Last Supper and Jesus' comments in John 6, for example. There's a common theme of Jesus as the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (Matthew 26:31, Mark 14:27, Luke 15:4, John 10:11). All of the gospels agree on the freeness of salvation, in the sense that it's received through faith alone, as illustrated in my recent post on justification apart from baptism. All four gospels portray repentance as implied by faith, so that repentance will sometimes be mentioned alongside faith to emphasize it, whereas only one or the other will be mentioned on other occasions. They agree in having faith accompanied by regeneration and sanctification, so that saving faith is evidenced by improved behavior. Matthew 11:28-30 has Jesus offering rest and a yoke simultaneously. John 5:24 lays out justification through faith alone, then follows it with a reference to judgment according to works in 5:29. And the gospels agree about the general parameters of the connection between faith and works. Jesus demands perfection (Matthew 5:48, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 6:36, John 15:12), and there are comments about how "difficult", "impossible", etc. his demands are (Matthew 25:24-26, Mark 10:17-27, Luke 18:18-27, John 6:60), yet those demands are accompanied by his acceptance of individuals who fall well short of what he's demanding. Men like Peter and John are portrayed as redeemed individuals and different than the average person (having faith, associating closely with Jesus, etc.), but they still sin to a significant degree. There's also agreement that individuals like Judas were never saved to begin with. People often associate the thinking behind 1 John 2:19 with the fourth gospel, but some of the same concepts are found in Matthew 7:21-23.

To appreciate the importance of agreements like these, consider how easily the gospels could have disagreed, even disagreed radically, on these matters. Think of the wide variety of views of salvation of one sort or another found in Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, etc. To cite an example I discussed in another recent post, think about the role of baptism in the gospels. Given the tendency in Christian circles to make baptism more prominent in later centuries, it would have been easy for one or more of the gospels to have given baptism a much more prominent role if the gospels had been written later and were less historical.

1 comment:

  1. Good. This post is related to the issue of artless agreement among the Gospels in their reportage of Jesus' words. To expand upon it, what you want to do is to take the various passages and show how many different incidents are related in each example, emphasizing that you aren't just using Synoptic parallel passages, and then show the agreement in language and content.