Synoptic Gospels

The first three books of the New Testament are Matthew, Mark and Luke, called the Synoptic Gospels. Synoptic means "common view" or "seen together," and refers to the degree of similarity among these three accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus. Textual scholars have long pondered the relationships among these books -- who wrote them, which was prior to the others, who borrowed from whom, what sources underlie the common passages. All of this is outside our scope and competence.

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For the purpose of this study of the racial teachings of the Bible, we will follow Matthew's account of the life of Jesus, but bring in both Mark and Luke where they differ from Matthew. This is especially the case with regard to the birth narratives. Likewise, certain parables, teachings and signs are unique to Matthew or Luke. We will point these out when they have racial significance.

        

For the Christian, the whole focus of the study of the Bible's message on race is in this section and the following one, the Book of John. Our whole effort of slogging through the Old Testament was all to build a foundation, a context. And if we learned anything from that, it was that the people of Israel were central to God's historic plan, and all other races were secondary. In fact, His entire drama of redemption was inseparable from Jewish history. That story was incomplete, it depended on a further work of God for its fulfillment. But that fulfillment, when it came, would bring about the validation of God's promises to the founders of the Israelite nation, and the vindication of His people in the eyes of the world. It is not that the Jews would be shown to be a "master race," a superior caste, but rather God would demonstrate that His Presence dwelt among them in a unique and definitive manner that no other people on the face of the earth could claim. All men must acknowledge that the God of Israel was indeed the God of the whole earth and the only true God -- this is the central proclamation of the Old Testament. And it is a message that is universally rejected in our own time by secular men and many religious ones.

        

The question is -- what impact did Jesus' own life and teachings have on this spiritual legacy? Did he affirm it, deny it, transform it? Later Christian scholars have come up with all possible varieties of answers. Throughout Christian history, there has been a marked antipathy to the Jewish "race" and religion and a consequent spiritualizing of references to Israel. The Jews have been shut out -- they have been treated as the "synagogue of Satan", and the Church has become the New Israel, the inheritor of the promises of God's favor. In the 19th and 20th centuries, liberalism took this spiritualizing to the next level: the Church is not the only heir of God's blessing, but His favor rests on all humanity. God makes no distinction between Jew, Christian, Moslem, Hindu, atheist -- all alike are His children. Modern theology has led us far astray from the Biblical text. In this time of social and moral chaos, it is high time that serious people return to a study of the Scriptures. We need to re-examine Jesus' racial teaching and make that the basis for our own lives. We need to understand not only the place of Israel in regard to the Gentiles, but also the New Testament teachings on the relationships between people of different nationalities, colors and cultures.