Today we’re sharing an excerpt from Rebecca McLaughlin’s new Bible study: Navigating Gospel Truth. Order your copy or view a free sample at lifeway.com/gospeltruth. Plus, don’t miss out on a free download and hands-on activity at the end to put what you’re learning into practice!
“Would you leave your mummy if she needed you?”
I was near the top of the ski slope and my nine-year-old Eliza was looking at me intently. Over the last few years, my husband, Bryan, (who can ski backward, forward, sideways, and probably upside down for all I know) has been teaching our girls to ski while I took care of their baby brother. But this year, Luke turned three and was deemed old enough to learn. Bryan undertook his training, while Miranda (eleven) and Eliza (nine) helped me. I’ve only skied for three days in my life, and I’ve spread those days over three decades, so I’m truly terrible. But Eliza was especially patient with me, despite clearly wishing she could go off and have fun with her sister. I told her she should go. She said no. I said, “Really, I’ll be OK.” She said, “No, it’s fine.” I said, “I want you to have fun!” That’s when she asked if I’d abandon my own mother if she needed me, and I shut up. Secretly, I was thankful she hadn’t left.
In one sense, skiing is straightforward. You get lifted up a mountain with long, slippery things on your feet. Then you slide back to the bottom again. But it’s not actually that simple. If you just stand on the mountain and point down, you’ll soon find yourself in a painful and humiliating heap. (Trust me—I’ve been there!) You need to practice balancing on your skis, controlling your speed, and navigating the terrain. There are parts of the run where you can just go straight down and take in the view. But much of the time you need to zigzag back and forth, and sometimes bumps and jumps and icy patches can throw you off. A three-year-old can get the hang of it. But it takes work.
When it comes to reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life, we’re faced with an exhilarating ride and an utterly breathtaking view. But to navigate the Gospels well, we need to get a sense of what the Gospels are, we need to find our feet, and we need to get a grasp of the terrain. This Bible study is designed to help you do just that. We’ll look together at the different kinds of writing that we find in the four Gospels, and we’ll get some practice on the slopes.
In Session One, we’ll ask why we should trust the Gospels as authentic biographies of Jesus in the first place. We’ll get a sense of when they were written and by whom, and why we should believe they give us access to the actual life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
Session Two will look at narrative: how the Gospel authors tell us stories about Jesus and what we should make of the differences between the ways that different Gospel authors tell us the same story.
In Session Three, we’ll explore metaphor and see that some of the most important and demanding truths the Gospel authors tell us are packaged in non-literal language.
Session Four will focus on the stories Jesus told and how His parables sift His audience: pulling those who have ears to hear in and pushing those who don’t really want to hear from Jesus out.
In Session Five, we’ll look at five other teaching tools that Jesus used: hyperbole, commandment, blessing, contradiction, and aphorism. Like moguls on the ski slope, these can throw us off if we’re not aware of how they work.
Session Six will work through five examples of dialogue in the Gospels. We’ll see Jesus laying down challenges to His conversation partners and note how His listeners respond to the push and pull.
In Session Seven, we’ll tackle prophecy from different angles, discovering how understanding more of prediction, poetry, personification, and apocalyptic can help us navigate prophecy in the Gospels.
Finally, in Session Eight, we’ll reflect on what we’ve learned and chart the course ahead from here!
On my most recent ski day, I only attempted one green run. I did it a couple of times, and I began to get a sense of the mountain from that slope. At points, it intersected with another run, and I had to be careful to steer toward the “family slope” when the runs diverged again. If I’d grown my skills enough, I could have tried skiing other slopes and gotten to know the mountain more. But one run was all I could handle that day! The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John offer us four distinct-but-connected paths through Jesus’s life. They all arrive in the same place, and at times, two Gospels fully intersect. But to read each Gospel well, we need to get a sense of how the four biographies of Jesus complement each other—even when, at first glance, they might look like they contradict.
I’m terrified much of the time when I’m trying to ski, and there might be times in the Bible study when the terrain feels scary or disorienting. But as we get better at reading the Gospel accounts, my hope is we’ll all become more captivated by the view of Jesus they offer, more confident in our understanding of the Gospel story, and more certain that Jesus really is the Son of God, who came to give His life for us so we could live with Him forevermore.
Just as practicing on one slope helps you when you’re faced with others, I hope this time spent in the Gospels will equip you to read other parts of the Bible more faithfully too. Each book in our Bibles is built on the mountain of Christ. So, it’s worth tackling the double black diamonds! But in this study, we’ll stay on the Gospel slopes and see how different kinds of writing help us understand who Jesus is.
As you study Navigating Gospel Truth, you can practice what you’re learning through a simple activity. All you need is a set of colored pencils and your Bible! Once you learn about the genres and literary devices used in the Gospels, consider highlighting each one with a different colored pencil as you read. Recognizing and understanding these genres and devices will greatly enhance your study of Scripture as a whole. Print the bookmark below to help keep track of colors to use for each.