Common Core Gospel - July 2019 first published version

I attended a Christian school so as a kid I have studied some portion of the Bible. But as an adult I have not really read the Bible somewhat systematically until I decided to read the Gospels again carefully. I noticed that since ancient time (probably St. Augustine) there has been efforts to produce "Harmony" Gospels to capture the testimony of Jesus in the 4 Gospels into one harmonized and coherent story. It is actually a challenging thing to do as the 4 Gospels say many things similarly but differently - some to the point that can't be reconciled.


So I come up with this idea that I think must have been thought of many times by others before (but I can't find any in my quick Google search): if the 4 Gospels are all considered canonical, if all 4 of them describes something the same way, even though they still may not be "factual" as we normally understand it, these can considered to be the "core" of the testimony for Jesus, agreed by all 4 canonical authors. The results of this small reading project I called "Common Core Gospel."


Here is what I did. Actually took quite a bit more time than I thought I would. I first read through John (the one that is NOT synoptic) first, since I am quite unfamiliar with it. Then I go through Mark section by section, and use modern app / study Bible (mine is the Oxford Annotated NRSV from my college days) to help search whether a similar passage in John. I laid them side-by-side in Word, and then pick out the same or similar words / phrases. Since the project is about finding "maximum common factor," just using Mark (the shortest of the synoptics) and John gives a very good first draft of the Common Core Gospel.  It is also instructive in that it helps me realize John does not really talk much about repentance or the kingdom of God, and never uses the term gospel or good news.


Then based on the draft I compare the passages with Luke and Matthew, and come to the second draft of the Common Core Gospel. With that, I go back to the verses, and by typing in the relevant Bible full verses in Excel, and do a re-comparison. Such detailed comparison does help pick out some errors in the drafts, and also helps identify a couple of aspects in fact I consider common that I missed before.


One would think the result should be pretty objective; but it is not. In terms of big block of texts that can be considered common, there are really only 3 parts - the early portion related to baptism, the miracle of feeding of the 5000, and the end starting really from Jesus' arrest through to his burial. And the other parallels are a bit more subjective. Please note that I have not try to abridge - the results naturally boil down to only very few details that I can say "based on what the text of the gospels say, I think the gospel authors would agree that their text has said that." Another note is that I do use words that I introduce to make the text work. Simple example is in John the Baptist's statement about Jesus, John said he is not worthy to "untie the thong" of the sandal(s) of the one who is to come in 3 Gospels, but one (I think Matthew) have John said he is not worthy to "carry" the sandals. Clearly the 4 are saying very similar things. My version now has "I am not worthy to handle the sandals of the one who is coming." I think all 4 Gospel authors would agree that their text says things that do not contradict this Common Core "paraphrase", though I cannot claim that all the words I use are used by the inspired authors.


In any case, I think I have spent enough time on the work, and here is my first published version of the Common Core Gospel. I divided into 12 sections (12 is a special number for the Bible -  e.g.12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles) just for fun. In fact, in one of my versions I call this Common Core Sutra, because utlimately the text ends up being just a bunch of <50 bullet points. Without further ado:


1.      The prophet Isaiah said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord.'" John baptized in the Jordan and proclaimed, “I am not worthy to handle the sandals of the one who is coming. I baptize with water; he will baptize with the Holy Spirit." Jesus of Nazareth came; the Spirit descended from heaven like a dove on him, the Son of God.


2.      Jesus taught in the synagogues in places such as Capernaum in Galilee, and also taught in Judea. Jesus saw Simon and others, and they followed him. Jesus said, “The Son of Man has authority to execute judgment.” He said to a paralytic, “Stand up, take your mat and go.” And the paralytic went. Some Jews said, “This is not lawful on the sabbath.” Jesus answered them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”


3.      A large crowd followed Jesus, for he had cured many. He chose twelve of them, including Simon (Peter) and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. Sometimes, his mother and brothers would be with Jesus.


4.      Jesus’ ministry was such that some ‘may not perceive or understand.’ Jesus testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown. Some said Jesus was a prophet, but others said he had a demon.


5.      A leader begged Jesus to come, for his child was dying. Someone said, “Your child is dead.” Jesus said, “Believe. The child is sleeping.” And the child got up. Seeing a great crowd, Jesus said to his disciples, "You give them something to eat." They replied, "We have five loaves and two fish." Jesus made the people sit down -- about five thousand men. Taking the loaves and the fish, he blessed and distributed them to the crowd. All were filled. They gathered up twelve baskets of fragments. Jesus cured the blind.


6.      Some, like Peter, realized Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life will save it. Follow me.” He said, “The only true God’s commandment is eternal life: ‘Love Him and love your neighbor.’”


7.      As Jesus was approaching Jerusalem sitting on a colt he found, many people shouted, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" Jesus drove out people selling in the temple, which he called "my house." Jesus said, “My Father is a vinegrower who sent his son. Those who don’t bear fruit he will destroy.” The chief priests and some Jews wanted to arrest Jesus, but they feared the crowds. They tested him but he was not trapped. Jesus said, “He is the God of the living.” He asked, “How can they say that the Messiah is David’s son?” Jesus said, “You will be hated by all because of my name.”


8.      Jesus sat at the table, a woman poured ointment to anoint his body. Before the Passover, Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went to betray him. During supper with the twelve, Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.” Jesus took bread and said, “Eat my body, and drink my blood.” Peter said, “I will not desert you.” Jesus said, “I tell you, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Jesus and his disciples went to a place, where he was distressed and prayed, “Father, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours.” He said to them, “Get up.”


9.      Judas arrived with a crowd with weapons from the chief priests and other religious authorities. They arrested Jesus. One with Jesus struck the slave of the high priest with a sword, cutting off his ear. Jesus said, “Day after day I was in the temple.” They took Jesus to the high priest. Peter followed into the courtyard of the high priest with others. Some struck Jesus. A woman there said to Peter, “You are also one of Jesus’ disciples.” He said, “I am not.” Another said, “This man was with Jesus.” Again he denied it, “I do not know the man.” The bystanders said, “You are one of them.” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.


10.   The chief priests and other Jewish religious authorities brought Jesus before Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” Against the authorities’ other accusations, Jesus made no further reply. Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but the crowd asked him to release Barabbas instead. Pilate said, “Jesus has done no evil to deserve death.” They shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate, after flogging Jesus, handed him over.


11.   They brought Jesus to the place called the Skull. They crucified Jesus with two others, one on his right and one on his left. The inscription read, “The King of the Jews.” They cast lots to divide his clothing. Women Jesus knew were there. Someone gave sour wine to him; Jesus gave a cry and breathed his last. It was the day of Preparation (before the sabbath). Joseph of Arimathea, who was sympathetic to Jesus, asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Joseph took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb.


12.   Early on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw the stone removed. An angel in white said, “Looking for Jesus? He has been raised; he is not here.” She left the tomb and told his disciples. Jesus first appeared to some, who went and told other disciples. Some doubted. Later he appeared to the disciples. Jesus said, “I send you to baptize and forgive sins.”


And this is it. Less than 1000 words.


The order is mostly Mark's - I have great respect for him as his story has a natural flow that I think the others lack - Matthew / Luke both give a sense of accumulating materials from different sources with some unclear editing. E.g. in both, the person who asked Jesus about commandments, Jesus responded by saying "Why do you call me good (teacher)?" and effectively then say only the one God is good. If Jesus truly refused to be called good, then I think having "good news" or gospel as a key word in Luke / Matthew does feel a little strange. And given I like Mark's flow, when I scan through the Letters in New Testament, I feel that 1 Peter is really quite a good canonical summary of the common core of the 4 gospels (of course 1 Peter has many of the Mark's themes like good news and repentance that are not shared with John.)

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