We all see the world through a particular lens that is formed, ground, and polished by the circumstances of our lives. When we approach the Bible, it is helpful to understand the lenses of the authors of the particular book we are reading. This is especially true for the Gospels. Why do we have four Gospels? Because the people who were witnesses to the life and times of Jesus remembered him in different ways. Their life circumstances shaped how they perceived what Jesus said to them. Those circumstances also shaped how they chose to follow Jesus.
Let’s take Mathew and Luke for example; both offer stories about the birth of Jesus. They also both offer genealogies (Mat. 1 and Luke 3:23), and they both describe the first visitors who are sent to recognize and pay homage to Jesus. Luke tells us that Shepherds were the first to recognize Jesus as Messiah because Luke writes his Gospel through the lens of social justice and the raising up of the least in society. For Luke, Jesus is often described as a savior. A savior for all people, for Luke’s lens is one of inclusivity. Everyone is united through a connection to Adam. Jesus, and all of humanity are “sons” of God (see Luke 3:38).
Matthew writes from a Jewish lens. Yes, Jesus is Messiah, and for Matthew that means he is the new King of the Jews. Yet he is also more than that. Matthew’s genealogy begins with Abraham and details that Jesus comes from a line of kings. Jesus is the fulfilment of the covenant made with Abraham. Abraham will be the father of many nations and Kings shall come from Abraham (Gen. 17:1-8). Mathew tells us Wisemen from the East come to honor the newborn King. Gentiles are the first people in Matthew’s Gospel to honor the King of all nations. Yes, many nations have come from the descendants of Abraham, and now their King has been born. A child born in a stable would not strike fear into the heart of king Herod. But a child who is being honored by foreign dignitaries as the new King of the Jews? Well, this is enough to cause Herod to kill every child in or around Bethlehem under 2 years of age.
- Read the first two chapters of Matthew and the first 3 chapters of Luke. Compare and contrast them.
- What are the lenses of the authors? Make a list of the ways they seem to see the world.
- Why have they written their Gospels? Use your intuition to answer this question. Try to get beyond logical perspectives or what you have always been told. Read these chapters several times and list all of the reasons Luke and Matthew may have been inspired to put their stories on paper.
- As you read, avoid the temptation to harmonize the stories. These are two distinct stand-alone works of art.
- What are the lenses that you bring to Scripture? List the ways your personal context effects how you interpret Scripture.
- What is God saying to you as you study?