There's a lot of work being done currently on the Four Gospels in the New Testament. Why four gospels and not five, or three or more? Then there's the question of four gospels telling the same story but with differences of style and content, a variety of emphases and changes in the narrative flow, conflicting chronology and major omissions and additions. But they are each examples of what came to be called a Gospel. Not biographies, or anthologies, more than history and more than theology but with both as powerful streams in the literary genre we now call Gospels. All four are a telling of the story of Jesus of Nazareth, and in the telling each is an interpretationof who Jesus was, and is, for those who heard and followed him, and for those who encountered him whether as supporters, as opponents and as enemies.
Amongst the great British scholars of the 20th Century, the Methodist Vincent Taylor was a leading mediator of responsible historical criticism of the Gospels, and used the relatively new discipline of Form Criticism in his own Gospel studies. His commentary on the Gospel of Mark was for decades a defining voice in the exegesis of Mark's Gospel, and though now dated it remains a magisterial close reading of the text. Seven hundred pages, 500 of them in double column and small print bear witness to an exhaustive and exhausting treatment in the days before word prcoessing. It is a triumph of New Testament scholarship, superceded only by the passage of time, changing methodologies of study and analysis, torrents of new information about the social and cultural context of the Greco-Roman world, advances in linguistics and in the research tools available from online primary sources, to lexical and semantic databases, not to mention the entire industry of publishing in biblical studies.
And for all our advances, are we any closer to understanding, comprehending, pinning down, encapsulating explaining in any provisional let alone final way, who Jesus is for us today? What was and is the meaning of that life lived in such obscurity, ending in such ignomy, and that after-life which has gone on and on for two millenia as historical challenge and intellectual scandal. An early essay by Taylor is as true, wise and intellectually wondering now as it was 70 years ago when he wrote it. Here is one telling extract, written as a prose poem:
We ask who He is and He gives us no answer.
Enigmatic as in the days of His flesh,
he is enigmatic still to the questing mind.
But He so works in history and life that,
after He has left us “in suspense”,
we come to know of a surety who He is.
He makes Himself known in His deeds,
in the breaking of bread,
in the cross,
in prayer and worship.
He is what He does.
His secret cannot be read:
it must be found.
(Vincent Taylor, "Unsolved NT Problems: The Messianic Secret." Expository Times, 59 (1948), 151. Quoted in David Garland, A Theology of Mark's Gospel. p.25.)