Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Holy Week - The Evangelists - Luke and John

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

Yesterday's entry covered the first two Evangelists (bearers of good news) as recorded in the Christian New Testament. Today we will discuss the remaining two Evangelists, Luke and John.

The Gospel of Luke is the third book in the New Testament. The author, which tradition states was Luke, a traveling companion of Paul, is not mentioned by name in the text. The early church fathers seem to recognize it as coming from Luke and take it for granted that he wrote it.

Luke was a companion to Paul and traveled with him on some of his missionary journeys. Luke's occupation has been identified as a physician, and he has been called The Beloved Physician. His gospel is written in a gentle tone.

The Gospel of Luke has several unique characteristics. It is the longest gospel and incorporates closely with Mark (the earliest Gospel) and Matthew (the most "Jewish" gospel). It is the only gospel written in a very orderly fashion and as such is the only one that is explicitly addressed to Theophilus. This name means Lover of God in ancient Greek, and may be a play on words meaning that the book is addressed to all Christians (lovers of God) and not just to one man.

Luke's gospel was written to non-Jewish readers (i.e., Gentiles), and its intended audience may have been the Greco-Roman peoples that surrounded Israel.

The fourth book, the Gospel of John, is the most theologically modern of all of the gospels. It is believed to have been written last, and the writing indicates a richer understanding than the first three gospels. It has been portrayed as the "stream in which children can play, or elephants can swim," due to its deep theology which at the same time is written in such a language that even less theologically-minded readers can comprehend.

Like the other gospels, there is mystery surrounding the author. Since antiquity, the book has been traditionally attributed to John, an apostle (immediate follower) of Jesus. It closely follows the style and grammar of other books of the New Testament attributed to that same John. Inside the gospel, the author seems to be referenced by the phrase "The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved" though it is unclear who it actually was. There have been other suggestions, but the gospel has traditionally been called John's Gospel.

If John the Apostle wrote the gospel, it would have been late in his life. He is known to have been exiled to the island of Patmos, and probably died there around 96 A.D., which would have been about 60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This gospel is different than the previous three, in that he unveils fewer miracles, which he calls signs, but that these signs are much deeper theologically. The author even cites his limited use of signs by stating

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
- John 21:25
New International Version

The two stamps illustrated nearby are part of the four-stamp set issued in 1961 by Switzerland. The set features the traditionally identified writers of the four Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The stamps depicting the authors of the first two gospels were detailed in yesterday's entry.

As noted in yesterday's entry, this stamp set sells for around $30 (USD) at the retail level. The set would make a good addition to any stamp collection, but would be especially nice for collectors who specialize in Christian themes on stamp.

Update: Special thanks to reader Jim who reminded me that the fourth gospel has been traditionally identified as authored by the Disciple John, although there is no Biblical evidence to back that up. While an in-depth, theological divination of the authorship of the gospel is beyond the scope of this stamp blog, I have tried to go back and correct any unintended assertions that were made.

Previous Holy Week Entries:

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