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The Bible In Its Making by Mildred Duff

CHAPTER XI HOW THE GOSPELS CAME TO BE WRITTEN

[Illustration: (drop cap B) Early Christian Lamp]

But how did the story of the Saviour's life on earth come to be written?

We have seen that many years passed before any one thought of writing it down at all. The men and women who had really seen Him, who had listened to His voice, looked into His face, and who knew that He had conquered death and sin for evermore, could not sit down to write, for their hearts were all on fire to speak.

But as the years passed, the number of those who had seen Christ grew less, and the need of a written Gospel became ever greater. Precious words would be forgotten, precious facts passed over, unless they were collected together and put down in black and white. Some of those, therefore, who had seen and heard Christ began to write down all they remembered of His life.

They had no thought, as yet, of a New Testament being added to their Bible; the Old Testament Scriptures were still the 'Bible' to them. These early Christians, as we remember, did not read the Bible in the original Hebrew, but in its Greek translation. They loved it and searched its pages eagerly, as they realized that all its words spoke of Christ!

But about the time that St. Paul was imprisoned at Rome we think that the Gospel according to St. Mark was written.

Most of you know that Mark was a young Jew who began his work for God by travelling with Paul and Barnabas (Acts xii.25), but who left them when the work grew dangerous. (Acts xiii.13.) Paul was so grieved at his failure, that for a while he refused to trust him again; but Barnabas, who believed in his repentance, gave him another trial. (Acts xv.37-39.) That Mark proved himself even to Paul we find from the Apostle's last Epistle to Timothy, when he writes: 'Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.' (2 Timothy iv.11.)

Before that time, however, Mark had lived and worked for many years with the Apostle Peter, who in his letter written from Babylon speaks of him as 'Marcus my son.' (1 Peter v.13.)

Now a Christian writer, named Papias, who lived about sixty years after this time, tells us that Mark wrote his Gospel story from what Peter had told him about Christ; so we think this Gospel writing is really the Apostle Peter's account of our Lord's life on earth.

Very likely, as Mark journeyed with the Apostle from place to place, and heard him tell and retell the wonderful story of His Master's life on earth, the thought came into the young man's mind, 'Why not write down what Peter says, so that his words shall not be forgotten?'

And so fresh and vivid are the words of Mark's Gospel, so full of little natural touches, that most people agree that old Papias must have been right. The very things St. Peter would have noticed are mentioned by Mark.

Matthew, the writer of the Gospel which comes the first in our New Testament, was a Levite; that is, he belonged to the tribe of Levi, and this tribe was specially chosen in the time of Moses to learn the Law and serve God in His Temple. Matthew, therefore, was very learned in the books of the Law, and in the writings of the old prophets. As you all know, the Lord Jesus chose Matthew to be one of His special companions; and as Matthew followed his Master day by day, he saw more and more clearly how all the old prophecies which he knew so well pointed to the coming of Christ.

[Illustration: A FRAGMENT OF PAPYRUS-PAPER WITH ANCIENT WRITING]

So, when the Holy Spirit called Matthew to write what he knew of the Lord's life on earth, those ancient prophecies, and the wonderful way in which they had come true, were still in his thoughts. This is why we find in the Gospel according to Matthew more quotations from the Old Testament than in the writings of any of the other evangelists.

'See, My Book has always spoken of the coming of My Son.' This is the wonderful message which God gave to the world through Matthew's knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Years passed, and those who had seen Christ in His earthly life had nearly all died, while Gentile Christians everywhere were asking eagerly for the written story of His life.

Twenty years after Matthew's Gospel was written, God called a Greek scholar, named Luke, to write what was to be a most important part of our Bible. The Jews of old hated and despised the Gentiles; we have seen how bitterly they persecuted Paul because he declared that God had sent him to preach to the heathen nations; think, therefore, how impossible it would have seemed to a Jew of this time, that a Gentile could, at God's bidding, write two Books which should become even more precious and sacred than the Books of the Law, which the Jews rightly prized as the greatest treasure of their nation!

Those who work in heathen lands to-day tell us that the Gospel of St. Luke is always the favourite book of the converts, and that if they can only afford to buy one Gospel they always ask for that of Luke. This is because the whole work is written from the Gentile point of view -- it is the world's history of Christ.

St. Luke wrote his Gospel as an historian, and in dedicating his work to Theophilus in a kind of preface, he followed the Greek custom. 'Many,' he says, 'have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us' (Luke i.1), but their records have disappeared, while that of Luke remains.

He was a physician, as we know (Colossians iv.14), and besides being highly educated and gifted, he took infinite pains with his work. He collected all the information he could both from books and eye-witnesses -- either from the Saviour's Mother herself, or from some of her relations -- and to him we owe many of the most beautiful and touching facts of our Lord's life on earth.

Written last of all, we have the good news -- that is, Gospel, told by St. John.

When the Saviour ascended into Heaven, John was still a young man, but he lived to be older than all the other Apostles. By the time that St. John wrote his Gospel, Jerusalem had been destroyed and her inhabitants slain or scattered. He was able, therefore, to mention details, and give the actual names of people and places, which, if told earlier, might have endangered the lives of those of whom he wrote.

Many instances of this will be found by those who read carefully. He alone mentions the name of the Apostle who struck off the ear of the High Priest's servant, and the story of the raising of Lazarus is given only by St. John as though it would have been dangerous to record it earlier.

So filled with love was the Apostle John that before he died his spirit became altogether one with Christ's spirit, and the sayings of Jesus, which he had only half understood whilst his Master had walked this earth, grew quite clear to him, so that he remembered them distinctly.

Therefore, that others might understand also, God's Spirit called John, when he was an old man, to write out those precious words of Jesus Christ's which were always echoing in his heart, and which the other writers had not known, or had forgotten. It is in John's Gospel that we learn most about the love of Christ.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John -- let us thank God for them all.

The name 'Bible' is derived from the Greek word 'Byblus,' i.e. 'Papyrus,' the paper reed on which the New Testament was written.

The name 'Theophilus' means 'God's friend.' Most people believe that he was a notable convert of those days, though unknown to history.

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