Stages in Formation of Gospels – The Evangelists

The third stage in the formation of the gospels is to be seen in the work of the evangelists themselves, who brought together in an orderly sequence the various written collections and other material in the oral tradition. However, the work of the evangelists did not consist in collecting the traditions about Jesus and transmitting them in written form. As mentioned already, some of the traditions had attained a fixed form; some may have reached the evangelists in written collections or blocks and the rest as isolated pieces. The evangelists had to create a seam in order to unite these traditional materials and present them in a coherent and intelligible flow and forward movement. This they did by means of selection, modification, and arrangement of the traditions adding comments and summaries and finally, organising the material into a chronological and geographical framework. In this way, the evangelists gave the ultimate form to the gospels as we have them today. But that is not all. The evangelists were authors and theologians in their own right. They were not mere collectors and transmitters of the traditions. Writing from within and for the Church, they composed the gospels in accordance with their own distinctive theological viewpoints. The gospel writers not only collected the traditions about Jesus but made a selection from among them, modified, and interpreted them in view of the needs and situations of the Church for which they wrote. Thus, despite the close similarity between the first three gospels, we can notice a marked difference in emphasis, in the presentation of the person of Jesus and in the details of his ministry. These and other differences in the Synoptic gospels must be attributed, to a great extent, to the different theological perspectives of the evangelists.

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