Describing the Indescribable

Each of the Gospel writers faces the same conundrum: how to describe the indescribable; how to convey, in words, the power that they saw at work in Jesus; the power that he was able to access and command; the power that he applied to all manner of difficulties and which, again and again, proved sufficient for the need. It was not the details of what he did, nor the contexts in which he did it that awed them - these things were not significant, in themselves - but the power he used to transform those situations.

How to describe the indescribable? How could they convey that power convincingly in writing, in the form of a written document? It is astonishing that they even attempted it. These days we take it for granted that anything important is written down, even if, since the arrival of the personal computer, it is not necessarily written down on paper. But the Evangelists lived in a society where the vast majority of people were illiterate or barely literate. Vital information was still held and conveyed in oral forms; retained in the memory; retold as poetry or stories. The forms of written material that were known - that were even considered possible - were far fewer than the forms available to us. As it is, they invented a new literary form - the Gospel - to tell the story of Jesus. The tricks and techniques that we now know to be possible - now that novelists and poets and journalists have had a hundred years to practice on a fully literate society - were unimaginable in the first century C.E.

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