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Why are there different versions of Jesus’ life and teachings? I don’t know what to believe.

Have you ever seen a movie or read a book that presents the same story from several different points of view? Perhaps the main characters are members of the same family who have lived through the same experiences but view them very differently. Is one person right and the others wrong, or do they each have versions of the same truth? You can think of the Gospels as different versions of the same truth, each written to appeal to a specific audience and highlight a specific aspect of Jesus.

All the evangelists believed that Jesus was the solution to their problems. So the words and deeds of Jesus hold the key that unlocks the solution to the crises facing their communities. Mark stresses that Jesus is a suffering Messiah opening a new way of relating to God. Matthew emphasizes Jesus as an authoritative teacher who presents the new guidelines for life in relation to God. Luke highlights the healing and prophetic activity of Jesus as a witness to the new action of God for salvation. Such changes reinforce their own portraits of Jesus.

What the evangelists did to the story of Jesus’ life is what we are still doing to the Gospels today: We take their message to discover the solutions for our problems. Each of us shapes a Gospel—a Christian life-style—by selecting from all four Gospels the words and deeds of Jesus that we find most important because of our situation. We find, in Jesus, a path to God. Thus, the Good News in four versions becomes the Good News in many more. How providential it is that we have four versions rather than one! And how interesting it is to trace the uniqueness of each version and recognize the different theologies and community responses to Jesus that are available to us today.
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