back to original page

Contexts and Comparisons Chapter 2 - Sacred Texts 


This chapter will avoid the designations "New Testament" and "Old Testament" since these terms create the false impression that one body of writings supersedes the other. Instead, the terms employed here will be "Greek Testament" and "Hebrew Testament," which both indicate a distinction based on original language of composition.

The Greek Testament is a collection of twenty-seven books reflecting the influence of a Jewish religious teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, who died around the year 30 of the common era. Four of the Greek Testament books, called gospels, bear the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These writings present an account of Jesus' public teaching and deeds. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, referred to as "synoptic," share a common view, as well as common vocabulary, sentence structure, and narrative order, all based on the use of common sources. The fourth gospel, John, often renders variant views or traditions.

All four accounts are anonymous since they offer no internal identification of the writers. Luke, for example, states clearly at the outset that he found it necessary to do research in order to write his account, one of the many then circulating. Although the 2lst chapter of John does speak of eye-witness testimony, that chapter is a later addition, the gospel itself coming to a full stop with the 20th chapter.

Besides the four gospels, the Greek Testament collection includes the Acts of the Apostles, a narrative that relates the early history of Jesus' followers immediately after his death. Twenty-one of the writings within the collection are epistles (1) written after Jesus' death and addressed to communities of his followers: fourteen of these have been attributed to Paul while the others are variously attributed to James, Peter, John, and Jude. The last work within the collection is a prophetic book of visions called the Apocalypse or Book of Revelations, which offers a vision of the future, of the end of the physical world.

Unifying Theme

The centrality of Jesus among those influenced by accounts of his personality, teaching, and deeds, is the common element binding these books into some kind of unity. Otherwise the works sometimes represent differing interpretations of his life and thought. Since Jesus himself never left a written document, the twenty-seven books, composed years after his death, attempt to interpret his life and significance for his followers. These efforts, which are not always harmonious, reflect the beliefs of the communities for which they were written rather than the actual words and deeds of Jesus himself. Therefore, some scholars of scripture draw a distinction between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. The former refers to the words and deeds of Jesus as filtered through, and interpreted by and for, the believers within the early Christian communities. The latter concerns Jesus as he actually lived and taught. What the twenty-seven books of the Greek Testament convey is the Jesus of faith, a subject which will be explored later in this section.

The Greek Testament as a Collection of Writings

These books of the Greek Testament, which evolved individually, took centuries to be gathered together into a collection. Since communication between scattered communities in the first and second centuries was limited at best, and since a unified network of religious leaders capable of creating a commonly accepted pool of information emerged only gradually, one religious community possessing a gospel or letter was often unaware of other communities in possession of similar documents. Hence each one of the original books was known mainly to the particular person or community to which it was addressed. Indeed, some writing of Paul seems to have been lost (Col. 4:l6). Gradually, and only with a great deal of debate, canons (or lists) were formed, enumerating the books to be included within the collection, as well as those to be excluded. Among those excluded are gospels, now called apocryphal, bearing such distinguished names as Peter, Thomas, and Nicodemus. The canon or list of books of the Greek Testament was finally fixed in the 4th century, more than 300 years after Jesus' death.

The Element of Diversity

The individual books themselves represent a wide diversity of meaning. Chronologically, the first book to be written is Paul's initial letter to the Thessalonians, composed around the year 5l, or approximately twenty-one years after Jesus' death. That letter contrasts sharply with the letters to Timothy and Titus, probably written around the year l25, or about a century after Jesus' death. In between are the gospels of Mark (65-70), Matthew and Luke (80-85), and John (90-95). Therefore, the writing itself occurred over a period of about 75 years, during which the Christian movement underwent significant development and change.

Geographically, the life of Jesus unfolded and terminated mainly in the two provinces of Galilee and Judea. In the synoptic gospels, the public ministry of Jesus lasts only one year, begins in the northern province of Galilee, and terminates with only one journey to the southern province of Judea. In John, however, the public ministry lasts about three years and includes movement back and forth between the two provinces.

After his death, Jesus' followers began to spread northward to Antioch in Syria, and westward to Greece and Rome. With geographical change came ethnic and linguistic change. Jesus himself directed his teaching to his fellow Jews, and that teaching was in turn absorbed by Hellenized Jews (2) and passed on to the wider Gentile world of Greece and Rome. Jesus spoke Aramaic while the collection of documents is written in Greek, the common language of the day. Given these geographic, ethnic, and linguistic changes effected across a broad time span, and a continuously evolving tradition of oral teaching, it is not surprising that diverse interpretations of Jesus' message, and of Jesus himself, emerged.

The Kingdom and the Prophetic Jesus

One portrayal of Jesus, as given in the synoptic gospels, is that of the itinerant healing prophet announcing the advent of God's kingdom. At the outset, Jesus' mission appears to be similar to that of his predecessor prophet (3) John the Baptist, whose message about the Kingdom Jesus echoes. After John the Baptist's imprisonment, Jesus continues the mission of John. In this representation, rather than call attention to himself, Jesus focuses on the rule of God in the lives of people. This is the portrait of Jesus that emerges strongly in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

To understand Jesus within this synoptic context, one must understand the notion of the kingdom of God prevalent among Jesus' fellow Jews. Throughout the Hebrew Testament there are references to the Kingship of God, described as everlasting (Ps. l45) and intimately linked with the people of Israel (Is. 44:6). The Kingdom or rule of God over the lives of all people was, in addition, perceived as something that would come to full realization sometime in the future: "And in the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people" (Dan 2:44). At his own services, Jesus probably would have heard a version of the following prayer, still recited in synagogues today: "Magnified and sanctified be his great name in the world which he hath created according to his will. May he establish his kingdom during your life and during your days, and during the life of all the house of Israel, even speedily and at a near time; and say you, Amen."

It is in light of this expectation of God's dominion over the lives of people that one must read Mark's summary of Jesus' teaching, which declares, "After John had been arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: 'The time has come; the kingdom of God is upon you; repent, and believe the Gospel'" (l:l4). Here "gospel" (4) refers to a joyous announcement rather than any written document, since no Greek Testament books were yet in existence. According to one interpretation, Jesus' announcement indicates that the establishment of this spiritual, God-centered kingdom would coincide with the end of the world as it was known then. Jesus proclaimed the fatherhood of God who exercised sovereignty over the lives of people in a new spiritual world, and he saw himself not as the focus of the kingdom, but as its herald. Although his notion of the kingdom was spiritual and non-political, some passages still indicate that he viewed himself and his apostles as holding positions of authority within that kingdom. This point will be reviewed later in reference to the question of Jesus' death.

Scholars debate whether this kingdom, as envisioned by Jesus, was to be something purely internal, or something external and visible, and if the latter, whether it was something to be established immediately in its complete form, or whether it was to evolve gradually. The Greek Testament documents allow a range of possible interpretations about these questions.

This notion of the kingdom is important in the development of Western civilization. Beginning with the Middle Ages, theologians tended to equate the kingdom with the church. They identified the apostles of Jesus, those whom he had sent to spread his teaching on the kingdom, as the predecessors of bishops and popes, the very men who eventually began to exercise not only spiritual but political authority as well.

Entering into the Kingdom

To be a part of this kingdom, Jesus exhorted people to practice behavior suggested by the Beatitudes, the Our Father prayer, and the Sermon on the Mount. The literary form of the Beatitudes clearly derives from Jewish poetry, evident in the opening line of the first Hebrew psalm which begins, "Happy is the man . . . ." Similarly, the Beatitudes begin, "Happy are the poor . . . ."

The content of the Beatitudes also is anchored in Jewish religious thinking. For example, the reference to the meek inheriting the earth comes directly from Psalm 37:ll. That the merciful receive mercy reflects the Talmudic saying, "He who has mercy on his fellow creatures obtains mercy from heaven." Furthermore, the prayer beginning "Our Father," a phrase common in Jewish liturgy, follows a Semitic pattern of development: opening praise, petition, and closing praise. Such a structure is evident, for example, in the synagogue service of morning and evening.

The insistence on love in the Sermon on the Mount, and in other passages of the Greek testament, erroneously thought by some writers to be a uniquely Christian contribution, also has antecedents in Jewish theology. For example, when Jesus says, "Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them, for this is the law and the prophets" (Mt 7:12), he echoes a tradition stated also by Rabbi Hillel: "Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the entire Torah." Jesus' thinking and preaching, rooted in their native Judaism, constituted a call for spiritual perfection to prepare for the establishment of the Kingdom of God. The hearer's obligation was to listen attentively and receptively to this preaching and abide by it.

The Kingdom and Divine Forgiveness

What if those attempting to enter the kingdom failed to live up to its lofty expectations through human weakness? Were they condemned to some permanent expulsion? In the thinking of Jesus, the God ruling over the kingdom was a loving and forgiving father, a fact implicit in his use of the word "Abba," one of a handful of Aramaic words attributed to Jesus in the gospels. Usually translated as "father," the word means "daddy" and implies a secure, trusting relationship. Perhaps the story of the prodigal son, the most perfect and moving parable attributed to Jesus, exemplifies the kind of parental concern and forgiveness that Jesus envisioned God as exercising over the kingdom.

Synoptic Titles Applied to Jesus

Readers may question whether the synoptic narratives portray Jesus, the itinerant and healing herald of the kingdom, as human or more than human. Typically, the text emphasizes Jesus' human side, presenting him in reverential but non-divine terms. Called the Son of God, a title that could be applied to a king of Israel seen as a representative of God (II Sam. 7:l4), or to Israel viewed as a corporate entity (Exodus 4:2l), Jesus also was referred to as "lord," which simply means "master." The terms "messiah" and "christ," both used to describe Jesus, mean nothing more than "anointed," the former being a Hebrew term and the latter its Greek equivalent.

Those with a special spiritual responsibility such as a priest (Lev. 8:l2) or a king (l Sam. l0:l) were anointed. Indeed, Isaiah refers to the Persian--and therefore pagan-- king Cyrus as "a messiah of the Lord" (45:l). The words "savior" and "redeemer" indicate one capable of rescuing the people from a perilous situation, either spiritual or political, and of the latter, Israel had known quite a few. In short, the titles applied to Jesus in the synoptic gospels do not of themselves indicate divinity, but rather extreme reverence, acknowledgment of high spiritual responsibility, and intimacy with God.

Markedly human as the synoptics' portrayal of Jesus is, Matthew and Luke nevertheless give clues of an idealizing process at work. Mark, the earliest and most unadorned of the gospel writers, does not hesitate to speak of Jesus in the most human terms possible. Ascribing to Jesus such an ordinary emotion as anger (10:14), he mentions that some people considered Jesus insane (3:21). He describes circumstances in which Jesus "could not" work any miracles (6:5) or in which Jesus cured only "many" of the afflicted present (l:34). He also identifies Jesus through his maternal descent (6:5) and never mentions a father.

In parallel passages, the other synoptics tend to gloss over the human emotions, the accusation of insanity, and the limitations of power. The texts also adjust Jesus' identity to reflect paternal descent, thereby eliminating any possible implication of illegitimacy. Matthew and Luke reveal a stage in the idealization process, an intermediate phase in which Jesus begins to assume better-than-human dimensions. That evolution climaxes in the gospel of John which equates Jesus with Divinity itself.

The Logos, the Divinized Jesus, and the Gospel of John

The gospel and three epistles bearing the name of John suggest another early Christian school of thought, together with a dramatically different portrait of Jesus. So different is this Johannine tradition that it uses neither the word "apostle" nor a single parable. If the controlling metaphor in the synoptics is that of the kingdom and the kingdom's herald, in John the controlling metaphor is that of the divine Logos (or Word) made flesh. This shift describes a Jesus pre-existing with God and one with God. Although the term logos appears only at the beginning of the gospel, the notion of descent from heaven, and the subsequent companion notion of return to heaven, provide a narrative framework for the entire gospel. Mention of the kingdom, evident on nearly every page of the synoptics, barely receives three references in the entire gospel of John. Whereas the synoptics emphasize God and his kingdom on earth, John stresses Jesus himself. The fourth gospel uses the term logos in a distinct way and equates Jesus with the logos.

Although the term logos as used by John does not appear in the other synoptic gospels, the word was quite commonplace among Hellenized thinkers, and even among some Hellenized Jews. Philosophically it connoted the spiritual agent responsible for the creation and orderly running of the universe. At the end of the 6th century B. C., Heraclitus adopted the term in his philosophical system; Zeno (c. 335-263), the founder of the Stoic school of thought, speaks of "The general law, which is right reason (logos) pervading everything." Religiously, logos might be used as the masculine equivalent of "sophia" or wisdom and imply the guiding hand of God in creation.

No Hellenized philosoher, however, had ever envisioned the logos as having taken on flesh and become incarnate. John takes this bold step with Jesus. By identifying Jesus with the logos, John reveals a faith in Jesus that raises the latter above the purely human and identifies him with God and the creative process itself. Futhermore, John attempts to exalt and interpret Jesus to a Hellenized audience in terms familiar to both author and audience.

Certainly the explanation of Jesus as divine--known as high Christology--was more likely to find acceptance among Hellenized people, since many of these lacked the monotheistic tradition of orthodox Judaism. For example, when Paul and Barnabas are described as having performed a miracle at Lystra in Asia Minor, the people exclaim, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men" (Acts l4:ll). The rigor of the commandment forbidding the worship of strange gods makes it impossible to imagine such a reaction among the Aramaic-speaking Jews listening to Jesus or witnessing his deeds. The relatively low, albeit evolving and idealizing, Christology of the Synoptics moved toward the higher Christology found in John. That movement eventually caused the unbridgeable chasm between the originating Jewish, and subsequent Christian, communities.

Interpreted Biography

Which portrait of Jesus is correct? That of the charismatic and human preacher and healer announcing the kingdom, or that of the divine logos made flesh? Whether an individual reconciles and accepts both, or separates them and accepts only one, or none, remains an intensely personal choice. Regardless, students may well ask about the historical character of the gospels which render us these portraits.

The beginning of this chapter speaks about the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. The gospel books seem to present Jesus in the former manner rather than the latter, and readers cannot regard these books as undiluted historical narrative. Historical accounts always involve interpretation of the events they represent, of course. In depicting Jesus, the authors resorted to writing techniques such as verbal attribution and narrative shaping. In the first style, the writers assign words to Jesus which he did not speak, while in the latter, they describe circumstances and events that may not have taken place. Consequently, in discussing gospel events, one is best advised to distinguish between the narrative Jesus and the historical Jesus.

Writing practices like verbal attribution and narrative shaping were not meant to deceive, nor would modern Western historians, who value documentable and verifiable facts, use them today. The gospel writers reflect a different emphasis, an emphasis on the significance of Jesus's life, in an effort to interpret Jesus for the emerging Christian communities. For example, Mark quotes Jesus as saying, "If she [a woman] divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery" (Mk l0:l2). Jesus could not possibly have spoken these words since Jewish law did not permit a woman to divorce her husband. Mark is simply applying what he considered to be Jesus' thinking to the needs and circumstances of the Gentiles within his community. Matthew describes Jesus preaching on a mountain (Mt 5:l), whereas the parallel passage in Luke shows him teaching on a plain (Lk 6:l2). Writing for a Jewish audience, Matthew undoubtedly tries to draw an implicit parallel between Jesus and Moses. Such examples of verbal attribution and narrative shaping abound. That is what we would expect in an age lacking tape recorders, shorthand, typewriters, and mass dissemination of information. Thucydides, writing about the Peloponnesian War, stated the methodology employed by him and by the gospel writers as well: "My habit has been to make the speakers say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various occasions."

Besides these scribal liberties and the idealization mentioned earlier, other problems make it difficult to distinguish between what Jesus actually said and did from what the early Christian communities attributed to him. Jesus spoke in Aramaic and his words were reported in Greek, from thirty-five to sixty years later. Who assumed the notoriously difficult task of translating and who vouched for the accuracy of that translation? In addition, one must consider how much distortion inevitably inheres in oral transmission.

Consequently, some scholars view the gospels as interpreted history, as idealized biography in which the Jesus of history evolved into the Jesus of faith within the emerging Christian communities. However, the Jesus of faith known through the gospels and engendered by the hopes and aspirations of these communities inevitably is linked to the Jesus of history, who actually did exist.

The Death of Jesus

The death of Jesus leaves many unanswered questions. For one thing, the gospel accounts are inconsistent in some important details. For example, Matthew describes the last supper as the passover meal (26:18) while John describes the event as taking place the night before the passover (18:28). Moreover, in chapter l4 of his gospel, Mark describes an appearance of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, a judicial council. John mentions nothing of this; instead he has Jesus come before Annas and Caiaphas (18:12). Perhaps one answer is to be found in the assertion that the Romans alone could render judgment on capital offenses (Jn 18:31). Another is that the claim to being a spiritual messiah was simply not an indictable offense.

Quite probably, the explanation for the death of Jesus lies in a Roman misunderstanding of the kind of kingdom Jesus advocated. Sometimes the gospel documents refer to that kingdom as God's (Mk l4:25), and sometimes as Jesus' (Lk 2l:27). The latter simply may indicate that Jesus considered himself to hold a position of authority, a fact supported by the account of a quarrel among the disciples concerning their place of honor within the kingdom (Mt 20:2l). However, nothing in the documents suggests that Jesus preached a political kingdom to be achieved by force of arms. Nevertheless, John describes Jesus as entering Jerusalem welcomed by a large crowd shouting, "King of Israel!"

Mark, on the other hand, mentions a recent insurrection (15:7). The combination of a shouting crowd and the cries of "King" would excite the suspicions of any Roman garrison keeping watch over a populace unhappy with Roman rule, particularly if the shouts were directed at one already known for his belief in the impending establishment of a kingdom. And it was as king, as a perceived threat to Roman rule, that Jesus was executed after the Romans had placed a sign on his cross alluding to kingship (Jn l9:l9).

The death of Jesus established a link between suffering and spirituality by not only placing an official seal on that link, but also by giving subsequent generations of Christians in the Middle Ages and beyond a sacred destination--the city of Jerusalem--for their pilgrimages. Jesus' association with that same city, in addition, gave medieval Christians a strong proprietary sense toward it, that even prompted them to shed blood in the Crusades rather than yield it to the Muslims.

Furthermore, suffering for the sake of the kingdom, whether stemming from self-denial, human hardship, or persecution, was seen as having a redemptive quality. This association perpetuated an ascetical ideal in the Middle Ages that glorified abnegation in life, self-denial in the monastery, and martyrdom in the Crusade. In his infancy narrative, for example, Matthew paints a picture of the slaughter of children, and that became notable for its wider, mythic dimensions.

The Truth of Myth

We speak of myth in the Greek Testament in a special way. As previously discussed, the word myth derives from the Greek word "mythos," which simply means "story." But a myth has come to mean a story of a very special kind, one that imaginatively explores some fundamental truth about spiritual life and values. Lacking our modern complex and technical vocabulary, the ancients relied not so much on abstract analysis as on narrative suggestion in order to explore ideas basic to human existence. The Oedipus myth of antiquity, contrasted with the highly technical and detailed Oedipal theory of Freud, provides a case in point. Similarly, the gospel writers used myths or stories precisely in this sense. If, as the Passages for Study show, the parable is a short story with one moral lesson, and the allegory a more complex story with diverse elements standing for hidden equivalents, then the myth is a story that explores the deepest truths about the inner life of human beings and their relationship to the world and God. Moveover, because its content deals with such fundamental and universal truths, the myth lent itself to evocative recitation and ritual re-enactment.

The infancy narrative of Matthew, contrasted with that of Luke, provides a good example of the use of myth, or, to preserve the appropriate context here, midrash, the Hebrew word for the oral commentary on biblical texts that Jewish teachers (like Jesus himself) practiced. Both accounts relate Jesus' birth in Bethlehem, and both conclude with a journey to Nazareth. But between these two events, the stories differ markedly. Luke describes the apparition of angels and shepherds, the circumcision of the child after eight days, the purification of the child's mother in the temple according to Jewish custom, and the prayers of thanksgiving uttered by some by-standers. Thus according to Luke, between Bethlehem and Nazareth, there occurred a handful of events which could not have taken very long.

Matthew, on the other hand, presents a different and more time-consuming set of events between the birth in Bethlehem and the journey to Nazareth. He describes wise men following a star, conversing with King Herod, offering gifts to the child, and departing surreptitiously. His purpose here is to emphasize the acknowledgement of the Messiah by the Gentiles, represented by the three kings who bear gifts. He further delineates the flight of Jesus and his family to Egypt, the slaughter of children two years of age and younger by Herod, the eventual death of Herod, and finally the return of Jesus from Egypt to the Holy Land. Then he tells of the settlement in Nazareth.

As recounted in Matthew and Luke, the events between the birth in Bethlehem and the settlement in Nazareth are totally different and impossible to reconcile chronologically. The difference probably may be explained by the use of myth, or purposeful commentary, at the very least in Matthew. The story of the wise men and the star suggests that the wisdom of the world will be guided by, and subservient to, divine wisdom. The story of Herod's slaughter of children--a momentous event mentioned only in Matthew and nowhere else--prepares the followers of Jesus for suffering. The return from Egypt parallels the account in Exodus for the benefit of Matthew's Jewish audience. Matthew's infancy story, then, presents a narrative construct of mythic dimensions intended to suggest ideas about the Christian faith and its relationship to human wisdom, about personal suffering, and about religious parallels.

What is the relationship between such a myth and the historical Jesus? Perhaps Matthew's infancy narrative does not represent a myth replacing history, but rather a myth in history. Readers might view such a narrative as similar to an historical novel: the text is an imaginative and probing elaboration with an ultimate foundation in an historical event.


No introduction to the Greek Testament, however brief, would be complete without a reference to Paul. More than any other missionary, Paul established Christianity by his tireless work with the Gentiles, among whom alone Christianity took hold and eventually flourished. A convert who never saw Jesus in the flesh, Paul focused his teaching on the meaning of Jesus in the spiritual lives of his listeners rather than on the events of Jesus' life. Perhaps Paul's most lasting contribution was his insistence on justification by faith, evident in the pessimistic tone which sometimes appears in his writings. In the introductory chapters of his letter to the Romans, for example, Paul speaks of all people being in sin. He understood sin in the Jewish sense as being failure to live up to a spiritual ideal. He believed, therefore, that attaining acceptance before God, which he calls justification, could not be achieved by observing religious rules, which people would inevitably break, but rather through faith. He cites as the exemplar of faith the figure of Abraham, who trusted totally and unquestioningly in God. For Paul, that same sense of trust, channeled through Jesus, provides access to God and fsmakes one a spiritual heir of Abraham.

One legacy that Paul left behind was a restrictive, almost repressive, sexual ethic. Perhaps, however, the repression resulted more from subsequent interpretation than Pauline intention. Paul restated in Christian terms the view that woman was subordinate to man (Ephesians 5:22). In his first letter to the Corinthians, he clearly conveys that he considers marriage a concession to human weakness: "It is good for man not to touch woman, yet for fear of fornication, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband" (7:ll). In verse 8, he repeats the same idea: "But if they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn." He obviously prefers the unmarried state: "I would have you free from care. He who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please God. Whereas he who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife; and he is divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin thinks about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy in body and in spirit" (v. 32). The net effect of this teaching was to make virginity an ideal, and to contain all sexual activity in marriage, a religiously inferior condition necessitated by human weakness. The severity of this teaching probably reflects Paul's expectation that the kingdom of God was shortly to be ushered in, and that it would be best to prepare oneself in anticipation of its arrival.

In the developing Middle Ages, in addition to the economic and social distinction between classes, this Pauline thinking added the further distinction between the unmarried priests, nuns, monks, and friars, all presumably free to think about "the things of the Lord," and the morally weaker masses "concerned about the things of the world." Moveover, the view of virginity as a spiritually superior state inevitably raised the question of sex and its morality.

The development of priestly celibacy had its roots in several biblical directives, one forbidding second marriages to church leaders (1 Tim 3:2), and another encouraging occasional sexual abstinence as an aid to prayer (1 Cor 7:5). But the celibacy ideal had an economic side too. A Justinian law of 529 forbade the ordination of married bishops in order to prevent church property and wealth from going to the bishop's children. Mandatory celibacy gradually extended to all priests, and penalties for infractions could be harsh. Concubines, wives, and children of offending clergy could be reduced to the status of slaves of the Church. Still, priests resisted celibacy, as is evident from the strenuous efforts at reform made by Pope Gregory VII in the eleventh century. In reaction, the bishops at the Synod of Paris called these new Gregorian celibacy rules "irrational" and threw an abbot into jail for defending them. Tensions between a mandating Church administration on the one hand, and a recalcitrant clergy on the other, continued, as is evident from many passages in Dante, Chaucer, and medieval writers. They reached a breaking point in the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation, when Protestants rejected mandatory celibacy altogether.

All medieval writers, from Augustine (d. 430) and Gregory (d. 604) onwards, saw sex as tainted by evil and justified only by the intention to procreate. Only after one thousand long years of this thinking did a theologian by the name of Martin Le Maistre (d. 1481) finally evaluate sex as something good in itself in addition to being a means for child-bearing.

The Influence of the Greek Testament

The Greek Testament transformed the world of antiquity. Written in the language of one ancient culture, describing events that occurred under the rule of another, and growing out of the religion of a third, this set of books drew in the currents of Judaic and classical civilization and then released them altered and recharged to reshape the cultural landscape of the Mediterranean world and to create an entirely new civilization, that of medieval Europe.


1. Letters.

2. People influenced by Greek language and culture.

3. The word "prophet," derived from a Greek word meaning "to speak in place of someone," indicates one who brings a message or teaching from the Almighty.

4.The word "gospel" literally means good news.