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Four canonical Gospels describe the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, His miracles, and His teaching (Stanton 15). It is believed that all four Gospels were written soon after the Jesus’ death. Therefore, they were created for the early Christian communities with the purpose to retell the life of Jesus, to make people’s beliefs stronger and to bring them hope (Stanton 16). One of the most important historical events described in both texts is the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by Rome soldiers which has happened approximately in 70 AD (Mulder et al. 330) It is important to understand the historical background and purposes of this description in Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels for their correct understanding and interpretation.
The Historical Background and the Purpose of Matthew’s Gospel
Matthew’s Gospel is the first one, and it makes a link between the Old and the New Testaments. It was written for both Christians and non-Christians, in particular, for the Jewish community. With this purpose, the author included “affirmations of the Torah in the Gospel” (Sim 5). Matthew described the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and found the explanation of this event in Jewish sources in which “opponents are hypocrites (1QS 4:14), blind (cf. Wis 2:21), guilty of economic sins (cf. As. Mos. 5.5), unclean (cf. Jos. J.W. 4.382), […] destined for eschatological destruction (cf. m. Sanh. 10:1), and the cause of God forsaking his temple (cf. Jos. J.W. 2.539)” (Muddiman and Barton 69).
The author used this event to show the connection between Torah and Christianity and to confirm Jewish people that Jesus was a real Messiah. Therefore, it could be stated that Matthew’s Gospel was created to turn more Jewish people to Christianity (Martin 93). Probably, it was the main purpose of writing the story.
The Historical Background and the Purpose of Mark’s Gospel
Mark’s Gospel follows Matthew’s text. However, it is believed, that Mark’s Gospel was written first and was the source for Matthew’s story (Muddiman and Barton 27). It could be stated that it was written after the temple destruction (Incigneri 116). In chapter 13, “Jesus […] predicts that the temple will be destroyed, an event which of course happened in 70 CE” (Muddiman and Barton 121). Perhaps, this was the beginning of difficult times for Jewish people.
Also, Jesus predicted further suffering of Christians (Incigneri 119) which they actually faced from Rome (Incigneri 211). It could be supposed that the main purpose of the Gospel was to emphasize a suffering Messiah and his followers. However, Jew people did not expect their Messiah to suffer and die. It was expected that a Messiah would have a decent life with glory and admiration (Martin 79). Therefore, it could be supposed that in Mark’s Gospel, the author tried to introduce an image of suffering Messiah to support early Christians in difficult times.
It is important to understand that Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels are narrative stories that describe a life and suffering of Christ and retell His teaching to make them available for early Christians in different parts of the world. It was supposed that Matthew’s Gospel was created to turn more Jewish people to Christianity. Mark’s Gospel served to proclaim Jesus as a Messiah and to support early Christians in their suffering. Therefore, it could be concluded that both Gospels played a significantly important role in spreading Christianity and making people’s beliefs stronger under existed difficult historical circumstances.
Incigneri, Brian J. The Gospel to the Romans: The Setting and Rhetoric of Mark’s Gospel. Brill, 2003.
Martin, Dale B. New Testament History and Literature. Yale University Press, 2012.
Muddiman, John, and John Barton. The Gospels. Oxford University Press, 2010.
Mulder, Noor, et al., editors. Exploring the Narrative: Jerusalem and Jordan in the Bronze and Iron Ages: Papers in Honour of Margreet Steiner. Bloomsbury, 2014.
Sim, David C. The Gospel of Matthew and Christian Judaism: The History and Social Setting of the Matthean Community. T&T Clark, 1998.
Stanton, Graham. The Gospels and Jesus. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2002.