The Gospels Belong to You:
Who owns the gospels? What a strange question. They are just there, there is no copyright and nobody can tell you what you can and cannot do with them. Various translators do have control over their work, but most translations are in the public domain. The churches don’t own the gospel , though every church has its own doctrinal structure dependent on the gospels.
The gospels are meant for you. Many people down the ages have died protecting them, and asserting the right of access to everyone. Now what will you do with them?
The gospels value to you is going to depend on a number of things.
- The gospels are not an empty box in which you can keep your pet ideas and take them out to massage them when you want to. If you are under 85, don’t assume you know what the gospels have to say to you. If you are over 85, then being surprised by the gospels is one thing you can expect.
- The gospels were written 2,000 years ago and the authors were writing for a few people they knew, and who knew them. They did not realize you would be reading their very personal efforts to record what they had seen or heard. So give them a break. They didn’t get it all right all the time, but they were not trying to deceive you
- 2,000 years ago there were no copiers or cloud storage. When you wanted a copy of a gospel someone had to sit down for a number of days and copy it out by hand. After two or three days you then had two copies. There was no point to circulating lies or untruths. What people wrote was deemed by them worth the considerable effort and cost to set it down on very expensive parchment.
- When you pick up your gospel to read, imagine it a totally unknown entity. You are looking at it for the first time again. Even after all these years of studying these four documents I am constantly surprised b y another insight, and often the realization I was mistaken previously. This willingness to be surprised is vital for you if you want to find the true value of what is there before you. You are never done.
- The teaching in the gospels is simple and straightforward. Jesus never played mind games nor messed with people’s heads. He had a lot of trouble with the clergy of his day, but that’s another story. What Jesus of Nazareth had to say was understandable to the fishermen and farm laborers of Galilee. It’s not difficult but neither is it obvious.
- The real problem arose when others felt a need to explain his teaching to those who had not listened to him personally. Early teachers couldn’t help but spin the meaning of a parable or statement to fit their particular issue at hand. Reading their interpretation as words from Jesus’ mouth makes figuring out just what he said extremely difficult. This takes study and commonsense. The disciples’ spin is itself very instructive, and by no means a distraction once you understand the difference between what Jesus said and others’ assumptions or needs.
- What translation should you use? Modern translations are the work of good Greek scholars, historians and theologians. Even so, new insights will dictate changes in future translations. For example the Dead Sea Scrolls are still revealing background information on contemporary practices and beliefs. These nuggets of knowledge will change our understanding a little here or there and affect the next translations published.
Value your gospels, keep them close and leave space in your head for future understanding. You are not done yet.