Often, people don't understand why Scripture scholars talk about "Mark's Jesus" or "John's Jesus." Such terms are relatively new; they came into existence after World War II when "redaction criticism" became part of our biblical regimen.

Redaction critics discovered that the four evangelists weren't simple collectors of "Jesus stories." Though they used such stories in their Gospels, each evangelist edited the narratives, which had been passed on to them by the Christian preachers and other Gospel writers, or copied from a now-lost early scroll containing Jesus' sayings.

The evangelists changed those sources to make them agree with the person of the risen Jesus that they and their communities had experienced. They then arranged these passages to convey the special theology for which each writer has become known.

Risen Jesus

What prompted these four authors to employ such a literary process? Why didn't they just pass on their sources exactly as they received them?

The answer is simple: They were more concerned with surfacing the risen Jesus active in their Christian communities between 70 and 95 than they were impelled to pass on the exact actions and words of the historical Jesus, who had lived several decades earlier.

The only Jesus they had come into contact with was the risen Jesus, and each had encountered that "new creation" in a different way.

That key unlocks our Christian Scriptures and makes them relevant for today. The authors of the various writings weren't trying to give their readers a collection of historical reminiscences, teaching and dogmas. On the contrary, they were driven by a passion to reveal a person -- the person of Jesus -- alive and working in their midst.

For instance, when Mark, in Sunday's Gospel (Mark 6:30-34) refers to Jesus' teaching the crowd "many things," it's possible his Jesus will teach something different from Matthew's. Mark might present other teachings or arrange them in a unique way.

More than 600 years before the Christian Scriptures were written, Jeremiah understood the force and power that came when special people entered the lives of others (Jeremiah 23:1-6). That's why he assures his audience that Yahweh is about to give them a "new shepherd," a new leader who will convey Yahweh's care and concern for His people.

Knowing that nothing can destroy the spirit of a community of believers more than the wrong leader, Jeremiah proclaims: "Behold, the days are coming, says Yahweh, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king, he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land." The king's personality will help change the community's personality.

Our leader

Paul believes in the same concept (Ephesians 2:13-18). But, for him as for the four evangelists, the risen Jesus is the leader who gives the Ephesian community its personality. In this case, it's a personality that differs from other Christian communities, a personality that is the unifying force among them, uniting people who come from completely different backgrounds: Gentiles and Jews.

The Ephesians are made one not by doctrine, but by a person: Jesus "is our peace who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through His flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that He might create in Himself one new person in place of the two."

Perhaps we later Christian communities aren't as unique as the biblical Christian communities because many of us have replaced an experience of the risen Jesus with an experience of doctrine.

(7/20/06)