Dividing Up the Gospels

Back in April, I wrote about the Gospel of Matthew:

Matthew didn’t just write down a bunch of Jesus’ sayings and divorce them from the cross and the resurrection. No, he wrote a story in which Jesus teaches hard things and compassionate things, then lives for them and dies for them and rises again for them. He writes this story with a theme – Christ crucified is all we need. We don’t become like Jesus first or even mainly; we trust Him in our place. This is the story of the Gospels.

Last week, I received a comment about Jesus not teaching theology:

Jesus didn’t teach systematic theology classes…

I don’t think that Jesus’ teachings were primarily about creating doctrines for people to believe in. They were a prophetic calling of a new humanity into existence. They were an invitation into living in a new way, an invitation to the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

But it seems that this kind of thinking makes two critical mistakes:

  • Mistake #1 This says that because Jesus’ earthly teachings aren’t arranged systematically they don’t teach doctrines about God. But they do. “Don’t worry about tomorrow” is based on Christ’s teaching about God’s goodness. Knowing the Father is based on the regeneration of the Holy Spirit (John 3).
  • Mistake #2 This divides the Scriptures. It applauds Jesus’ ethical teachings, but it disregards Paul. When confronted with Romans and Galatians, these teachers tend to run to words inside the Gospels without seeing the whole picture of the Gospels.

Dividing Up the Gospels
Jesus’ death and resurrection are the point of the Gospels. But these false teachers obscure the cross in favor of ethics and morals. We aren’t saved by ethics and morals. This “new humanity” doesn’t save itself; Jesus does.

Jesus never obscured the cross for morals. He repeated over and again the importance of the cross to His disciples because it is the culmination, the meaning, the atonement, the goal and point around and under and behind everything He spoke.

As D.A. Carson puts it in his recent book, Scandalous:

Nothing is more central to the Bible than Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The entire Bible pivots on one weekend in Jerusalem about two thousand years ago. Attempts to make sense of the Bible that do not give prolonged thought to integrating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are doomed to failure, at best exercises in irrelevance.

As Carson says, the Bible pivots on the cross. God isn’t divided. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit agree with every word written in the Scripture. Christ is even called, “The Word.” In the Gospels (where these works-teachers run), Jesus is teaching the gospel. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John not called “the new creation” or “the good works.” They’re called “The Gospels” for a reason.

King from the Cross
Furthermore, many works-teachers like to focus on the kingdom of God. “Jesus came preaching the kingdom,” they say; and they’re right. But to focus on the kingdom at the expense of the King is to miss the fact that Jesus is the King who reigns from the cross.  That’s why every gospel makes a point to show that Pilate had “King of the Jews” posted on the bloody slab of wood.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the point of the Gospels. Our ethics, morals, and Jesus-following work don’t save us; Jesus does. That’s why He could truly say from the cross, “It is finished.”


About B Treece
loved by God before I ever loved Him, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone by the authority of the Bible alone to the glory of God alone, made to enjoy Him forever, happily married with wonder-filled children.

5 Responses to Dividing Up the Gospels

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