What if we only had the gospels


Hi friends

I was pondering today how my understanding of Christianity, and my relating to God, would be different, if the only biblical documents I had (apart from the OT) were the four gospels. *

what would change in my thinking if there were no Pauline letters, no Hebrews, no James, and John, and no Revelation.

What do you all think?*


Interesting line of thought rline. Bear in mind though that most of the epistles are older than the gospels and give valuable insights into the early controversies, credal statements and attitudes of the first Christians.


I might be a bit more works-oriented – which might not be a bad thing at all! :laughing:

Otherwise I doubt I’d be much different. I habitually tend to focus more on the Gospels than any other part of the Bible anyway.


This is true. However, to expand on my original thought, Christians are supposed to be “followers of Jesus”. So, if someone had never read the Bible, and started with the gospels, to read about the life of this person they were perhaps thinking of following, what would they come away thinking? About Jesus? About the other Christians they knew? In short, at the end of it, how would they be living their lives following Jesus differently to how the vast majority of Christendom is?

I have a few ideas myself (one of which is like what Jason said) but I’m hoping for some input from others too.


I suspect there would be “more dependence” on the direct voice of God (The Holy Spirit) in matters concerning our lives.

Not that it is a bad thing, but people tend to go straight to the Letters when looking for answers to issues in the church, life, or our walk with God as Christians, or even in matters of what to believe doctrinally. Many Christians are more followers of Paul than Christ. And many more than that neglect prayerful listening to the Living Word - going straight for the written word, bypassing the Living God.

But aside from that, there is one definite change; women would be in far more ministries than now, alas - due to the mistranslation of that fateful verse in Timothy, as well as its taking out of context.

On the negative though, we’d have I think, a less clear picture of many Biblical concepts; things which Paul for the most part as the “First Christian Theologian” (citation needed?) did the grunt work ahead of us on, drawing from Christ’s teachings many of the concepts that are prevalent today that Christ did not seem to make so “immediately apparent” (to those who don’t see it very clearly); things like Grace through Faith, and Righteousness isn’t by The Law.


I agree with others that we’d be more focused on works–how we live, doing what Jesus said. I have often heard people dismiss Christ’s teaching “your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees” saying, “But it’s impossible for us to do that, so Jesus was saying it to show us that we need to trust in His sacrifice for us.” I don’t see any evidence to support that conclusion.

Jesus says, “The one who hears my words and does them is the man who builds his house on the Rock.” That Rock is Christ. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain.” So when we obediently, faithfully live out the teachings of Christ, this is God building with us our house on the Rock. In the same way, Paul tells us to: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, to will and work for His good pleasure.”

Paul will theologize, but then he brings it back to: “Therefore, let us live in this way…” “Follow my example as I imitate Christ” etc.



I will say this: I would rather my most beloved read only the Gospels, if she was only going to read any set of things out of the Bible.

This was one main reason (aside from my own personal interest) that I did my Gospel harmonization study back in the spring of… was it 2005? (Gosh I feel old. :slight_smile: ) I never did send it to her, but I certainly let her know I was doing it (in case she wanted to ask for it) and would post it up somewhere eventually–which I eventually did.

(See link in my signature below.)

As to which Gospel out of the four I would rather she read, if she only had to read one… that’s much harder. Her specialities and proclivities and interests are such that I really think she’d have an easier time (and be more interested in taking seriously) the four Gospels harmonized. I suppose GosJohn if I had to only pick one. But I’d make sure to throw along with it Keener’s and Blomberg’s historiographical commentaries (at least, along with Marianne Meye Thompson’s various works on GosJohn)–even though Keener is sure John isn’t teaching universalism and makes sure to say so. :wink:

(I wouldn’t normally throw extended historiographic and cultural-thematic commentaries at people; but she’s the sort of person who would not only need such benefits but would be naturally interested in such things, and she’s certainly smart enough to inhale it. :smiley: )


So far, this is a summary of some of your thoughts on the original question.

Agreed. In fact, so far, I feel like this is probably the biggest one. If, for instance, we only read the sermon on the mount, we would probably come away feeling under a fair bit of pressure!

Yes. And surely this would be a good thing.

This I initially agreed with, but now I’m not so sure. Jesus was absolutely revolutionary in his treatment of women, his inclusion of them, etc etc. I wonder if we were truly “following Jesus” based on the gospels, whether that might change with us as well.

Hmmm. Yes, I think that might be true as well. I reckon we’d still see it in action, though, for example, the thief on the cross, the woman who washes Jesus feet with her hair, who’s told your faith has saved you, even the woman caught in adultery is shown grace despite not appearing to have any faith, etc etc.

Thankyou for the responses.


Rline, I was thinking today we’d certainly have less of an understanding that penal substitution is what God needed and was all about, right? This probably correlates with why we’d have a greater sense that what we do matters. Though people that affirm penal substitution don’t want to discount that what we do matters it seems like an obvious conclusion of believing that what we really need, or what God wants, is to overlook our sin. I recently read a high profile Christian blogger trying to discourage pastors from exhorting others to do good deeds, harping on ones that do, saying that this is not giving the cool, refreshing gospel to expect a changed life. People need grace, not to be convicted. Intereseting that we see Jesus giving grace, but convicting where needed. The bloggers rationalized why it’s not important that we share since there is no way we can do it sufficiently and the reason we are blessed is because we’ve believed the right things and God wants us to have the things we have. It’s not occured to them at all that it might be more like Jesus says that money is more of a curse than a blessing.


Hey, good one! I hadn’t thought of that obviously. To follow on, if we had to find out why Jesus died from the gospels, it would probably be “to take away the sin of the world”, but I don’t reckon we’re told how it’s accomplished (eg. penal sub) apart from Jesus’ death on the cross.