Question 39:

Why do large part of the Gospels (I assume that "of the Bible" is meant here) read like a history book?


Answer: Firstly (based on the German Catholic Cathechism for Adults (Katholischer Erwachsenen Katechismus, p. 37f.), a few words about the Christian understanding of the revelation: Ever since the beginning of the world, God has revealed Himself through creation, in particular through the conscience of man and the offer of His guidance throughout history. There is, therefore, a general story of the revelation of God. The Second Vatican Council teaches: From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father… (Nostra Aetate 2).

But God not only wants to reveal Himself to the individual person, but also mena and women as social and historical beings. He wants to gather humankind up into one people and to make this into a light for all peoples (see also Isaiah 42:6). Thus, because of the general story of God and man, there is a specific story of the revelation of God. In this story, God makes Himself known at certain times and in certain places to certain people in a certain way. This specific revelation begins with the calling of Abraham and the patriarchs. With the gathering of Israel and its liberation from Egypt, revelation enters into a new phase. Through the prophets, Israel learns more and more about God and is being prepared for the final revelation of God in Christ Jesus.

"In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe..." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

The Bible (the word is derived from the Greek bíblos = book) is the Holy Scripture for Christians. It records the experiences mankind has made in the course of its long history with God in His revelation through word and deed.

The Bible, consisting of the Old and the New Testament, is therefore akin to the charter of the covenant that God made with mankind. Because the Hebrew word berít (covenant) was translated into Latin as testamentum, the Holy Scriptures of the Jews (Quran: at-taurát) were called the Old Testament, and the letters of the apostles and the Gospels (Quran: indschíl) were named the New Testament.

The Old Testament contains the story of the people of Israel with God (we generally use the abbreviated version "Israel”, but stress that this does NOT refer to the modern day state of Israel; in its diverse writings and types of literature, including the historic literature, it reflects the faithful existence of a people who are certain of Gods covenant with them and who, throughout the centuries, again and again experienced Gods saving grace.

The New Testament gives witness of the experience the disciples and the early Church made with Jesus Christ. The writings of the New Testament are testimonies of the belief in Jesus Christ. They are testaments of Him as the Messiah, as prophesied in the Old Testament.

The authors of the New Testament writings understand the Old Testament as a witnessing to the actions of the same God whom Jesus proclaims. They are right to do this: Jesus was a Jew. His faith was the ancient, biblical Jewish faith, the faith of the fathers. The Old Testament is seen as a collection of literature which reflects Gods special relationship with His chosen people, and therefore also as the book of promises which have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This is the Christian faith, and because of it, Christians believe that both Testaments are linked.

The Bible is a comprehensive collection of writings which reflect the religious life and the faith of God’s chosen people, and to which many people and communities have therefore contributed. The genesis of the biblical writings spans a total of 1000 years. The OT came into being in the course of the 1st millennium before Christ, the New Testament in the 1st century after Christ. It is precisely this long period of the Bible’s genesis which provides such remarkable witness of the power of God’s word: Having encountered Him, people of most diverse origin and education have again and again tried to proclaim to their fellow humans the word of the Bible as the Word of God. Thus the texts of the Bible, properly interpreted, throughout the centuries have acted as lasting and strength-giving force of life. And yet, each text of the Bible originated in its own time and context and thus mirrors a specific place and period in time as well as peculiar social and political circumstances. The question of the right interpretation of these texts within the Church as the community of believers which is guided by the Holy Spirit, is of crucial importance.

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