The following comes from a document I wrote for our Mission partners in Uganda: This "Biblical and Theological Primer" was written for Nexus Seminary students and is being translated into Lugandan and will be printed in Lugandan and English as a teaching tool for Nexus graduates.
Gospels The word Gospel comes from the Greek word meaning “Good News”. The Gospel writers are sometimes called the four evangelists. The gospels are written to show that Jesus is who he said he is (Son of God). The four gospels tell the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection from four different perspectives and are written to four different audiences (or communities). The four gospels tell the same story but they differ in details and emphasis. It is widely believed that Matthew was written to a Hebrew congregation because he quotes the Old Testament significantly more than the other Gospel writers and other factors. Mark was written for a Latin, perhaps a Roman military audience; Mark is an action orientated book where there is little teaching but a lot of activity. Luke, the only identifiable non-Jewish writer in the entire Bible, writes as an historian, to show that Jesus came for the whole world; he includes more contacts with foreigners than the other three gospels combined. Finally, John writes not to tell what Jesus did but to show why he did what he did; every story in John arrives at the same conclusion: Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the World.
Oral Tradition: The ancient world was not a literate world. People did not have books or scrolls at their immediate disposal. The vast majority of people could not read or write. Family history was passed down by word of mouth through stories. These stories were memorized in each successive generation and passed on exactly as received. In the New Testament the gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed before it was written. Jesus death and resurrection occurred in AD 27-30. The earliest of the gospels, Mark, was probably written down 25 to 30 years later. Many modern persons do not understand the quality of information in the oral tradition because, with the easy access to books and computers, we do not need to remember anything. In a preliterate or non-literate culture stories as carriers of wisdom and information are more prevalent. In existing tribal cultures there is a clearer understanding of the importance of the oral tradition and the place of story in a people’s history.
Mark was probably written for a Latin (Roman) audience and possibly for a military audience. The gospel writer often explains Jewish customs which strongly suggests that he had a non-Jewish audience in mind. The gospel according to Mark bustles with activity and energy. Mark contains the least amount of Jesus teaching in the four Gospels preferring to show the activity of Jesus ministry. Mark is generally believed to be the first of the gospels written. It was written sometime between AD 55 and AD 70. The oldest Christian tradition holds that John Mark was the author. John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin and accompanied Barnabas and Paul for much of their first missionary journey. Later he became a close companion of Peter and it is widely believed that Peter is the primary source for Mark’s information. Scholars believe that Luke and Matthew had a copy of Mark available to them when they wrote their gospels. Mark shows Jesus victory over the power of darkness through the casting out of demons. Mark also shows the disciples struggle to understand the meaning of Jesus life and teaching.
Key Learning: Mark has a bias for action. Jesus proves he is the Messiah of God through miracles and the casting out of demons.