In 1964, the Roman Pontifical Biblical Commission issued an instruction which described three stages int he development of the Gospels.
- Stage One: The public ministry of Jesus. This is the stage during which what happened, happened.
- Stage Two: The preaching/teaching of the followers of Jesus (30-70 A.D.). This is the stage of "oral tradition" - telling the stories about Jesus. (Some traditions may have been written down, but none of these writings have survived.) The purpose of telling these stories was not to present a biography of Jesus, but to convey the meaning of his life.
- Stage Three: The writing of the Gospels (approximately 70-100 A.D.). The authors, drawing upon the traditions passed on in Stage Two, selected material that would nurture the faith of the community for whom they wrote. Each used some material that the other three evangelists didn't use (or didn't have).
Thus the Gospels do not present a photograph of Jesus, but rather a portrait that conveys a depth and truth far greater than a list of bare facts. The process by which they came into existence was guided by the Holy Spirit, and the end-product reflects the truth that God sent Jesus to proclaim.
- Little White Book, Diocese of Saginaw