Practical Comments: chapter and verse
The evangelist never intended his gospel to be divided up into chapters or verses, these would be added many centuries later. Even less did the evangelist intend the headings and subheadings which we find in many modern bibles. These reflect the modern editors' understanding of the Gospel but, as we will be seeing, in practice they often raise barriers to a good reading. Headings given in our Bibles usually break up the evangelist's thought and we will see how they often do so in the wrong places. The Gospel was written as a whole work from beginning to end without any breaks. Ancient audiences would have been far better equipped than we are today to listen to a complete reading of the whole Gospel.
That said, Gospel Reading will follow the chapters as far as possible because they are the best way to keep our reading organised.
Same story, different evangelist
In the past, tradition has tended to read the Gospels as one story, bringing together or harmonising the four gospel accounts. We can see this in traditional devotions such as the Stations of the Cross or the Seven Last Words of Jesus. This has always led to something of a false fit because of the discrepancies between the Gospels. For example, in Matthew, Mark and Luke (the Synoptic Gospels) Jesus drives the merchants out of the Temple soon after his Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem. John's Gospel by contrast recounts this incident right at the beginning of the Gospel, in chapter 2.
Today we accept these differences and therefore we are able to read each gospel as a different (but related) story of Jesus. Each Gospel can tell the same story in remarkably different ways even though three of the four tell an apparently similar overall story. Often though, we find that one evangelist's account has become the dominant story in tradition. As a result we are often not aware of the variations. Once we are alerted to these variations, then we are able to see how the evangelists can use the same story for different purposes. We will explore this in more detail when we look at the background to the Gospels
A SAMPLE: Jesus walking on the water
As a dramatic example of how two evangelists can use the same story in different ways. let us take the incident of Jesus walking on the water. This is told by both Matthew and Mark.
Read therefore Matthew 14,22- 33; this is probably the version which is familiar to us.
Now read Mark chapter 6, verses 45 to 52 (Mk 6,45-52).
Two important differences will I hope stand out. What are they? Can you think of any reason for them?
When you've had a chance to think about this, then please go to the separate page where you will find my response.
Please try to resist the temptation to look at my response page until you have completed your own reading and exploration.
This episode of the walking on the water is not told in the Gospel of Luke. Luke often goes his own way with his editing. That said, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell similar stories about Jesus. They are known as the Synoptic Gospels, "synoptic" coming from the Greek for "with one eye". This stresses the similarities between the Gospels. Our example of the Walking on the Water shows us how similar stories can be quite different on closer examination.
The Gospel of John
We are not quite finished with this incident of the walking on the water because it is also told in the Gospel of John: Jn 6,15-21. Have a look at that account in light of what we have discovered about the other two accounts. Then go again to my response.
Looking at story of the walking on the water has been I hope a good illustration of how there is often more to familiar stories than we might realise. Matthew and Mark have given us remarkably different versions of the same story.
That is all to the good because each evangelist is following his own presentation and wants to bring out his own understanding of Jesus and his disciples. We must accept the differences and aim to understand them. Trying to resolve the contradictions would be a good example of asking the wrong question about the Gospels.
Already therefore we have had a taste of how each evangelist uses stories about Jesus in his own way and for his own purposes.
My aim - conclusion
I hope therefore to take this much further by giving you a "hands-on" experience of reading the three Synoptic Gospels. Over a period of time, we will build up a better understanding of what each evangelist has to tell us about Jesus and what it means for us to be his disciples.
I have no plans at present to prepare a reading of the Gospel of John.
Background and The Gospels
The pages on Background tell you more about the basis of this project. Included here is the relevant teaching of the Church.
In the pages on The Gospels I look at our presuppositions in reading the Gospels today.