Sources for our knowledge
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Sources for Our Knowledge. Of the Life and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth Part One: The Gospels and other Christian Sources. Two Sets of Sources. Both Christian and non-Christian sources. All sources must be critically evaluated for: Authorship Date

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Sources for our knowledge

Sources for Our Knowledge

Of the Life and Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth

Part One: The Gospels and other Christian Sources


Two sets of sources

Two Sets of Sources

  • Both Christian and non-Christian sources.

  • All sources must be critically evaluated for:

    • Authorship

    • Date

    • Oral and written sources behind the writing

    • Relationships among the written sources

    • Emphases and biases of the authors.


A note about faith

A Note About Faith

  • Critical evaluation of sources, literary and historical, is perfectly compatible with faith.

  • Your instructor believes in the full verbal inspiration of Scripture, and at the same time recognizes that the gospels are produced in human language and culture.

  • Faith has nothing to fear from good scholarship and hard questions.


Christian sources

Christian Sources

  • These are classified as apocryphal and canonical.

  • Apocryphal (which means “spurious” or simply “supplemental”) refers to all Christian sources outside of the New Testament, regardless of value.

  • Canonical (literally “according to the rule”) means the four New Testament gospels.


Canonical christian sources the four new testament gospels

Canonical Christian Sources: The Four New Testament Gospels

Luke 1:1–3 1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account ….

  • Many accounts of the life and teaching of Christ were produced in the first and second centuries (Luke 1:1 ). The four canonical gospels survived as the best representatives of these efforts, and include what was best in the sources that preceded them.


Synoptic gospels vs gospel of john

Synoptic Gospels vs. Gospel of John

  • Matthew, Mark, and Luke are synoptic gospels.

    • Synoptic means “seeing together”

    • These three have much in common, and differ in many ways from the fourth gospel, John’s.

    • All four gospels record Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection

    • The only other incident recorded in any detail by all four is the feeding of the five thousand.


Synoptic gospels vs gospel of john1

Synoptic Gospels vs. Gospel of John

  • Generalized Differences:

    • The synoptics focus on Jesus’ Galilean ministry, while John records mostly his Judean ministry.

    • The synoptics record Jesus’ kingdom teachings and parables, while John records mostly Jesus’ teachings about God and himself.


Methods to explain the similarities and uniquenesses of the gospels

Methods to Explain the Similarities and Uniquenesses of the Gospels

  • Literary Criticism

    Identification of written or oral sources behind the gospels.

  • Form Criticism

    Analysis of why these stories and teachings were preserved in these forms by the early church.

  • Redaction Criticism

    Analysis of the theological viewpoint of each individual gospel author.


Literary criticism synoptic gospels

Literary Criticism: Synoptic Gospels

  • Shared Material and Sequence

    The same stories or teachings appear in two or more of the gospels. Could indicate common oral sources, but shared sequence could indicate written sources as well.

  • Similar, but unusual, wording

    Evidence that the wording, and not just the substance, of the shared material was preserved. Could indicate written sources.


Shared material and sequence

Shared Material and Sequence


Which gospel came first

Which Gospel Came First?

  • Reasons that Mark came first:

    • Matthew and Luke tend to abridge Mark’s wording and details.

    • Mark’s sequence is the common thread among all three gospels. When Mark’s sequence is changed, only one of the other two changes it. Matthew and Luke never are in agreement against Mark.

    • Mark’s style and language is markedly (pun intended!) less polished than Matthew or Luke.

    • Some difficult passages from Mark are omitted from Matthew and Luke, suggesting to some that problems were being avoided through such omissions.

    • Matthew and Luke soften or omit references to Jesus’ human emotions and weaknesses, while heightening and emphasizing illustrations of his deity and majesty.


Two or four sources for matthew and luke

Two or Four Sources for Matthew and Luke?

  • Two Sources: Mark and an unknown source containing material common to Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark. This hypothetical source is usually called “Q” (from the German Quelle, or “source”)

  • Two Sources = Mark + Q


Two or four sources for matthew and luke1

Two or Four Sources for Matthew and Luke?

  • Four Sources:

    • Mark

    • “Q” –material in Matt and Luke, but not Mark

    • “M” – material found only in Matthew

    • “L” – material found only in Luke


Q who are you

“Q”, Who Are You?

  • “Q” is a hypothesis with considerable evidence. This is the material common to Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark.

  • This material is mostly sayings of Jesus.

  • If Matthew came first, as most early Christians believed, then Q disappears.


Sources and faith

Sources and Faith?

  • The evidence from early Christian writers favors the priority of Matthew, which only a few modern scholars have concluded based on literary criticism. But literary criticism deals in probabilities, not certainties.

  • Conservative evangelical scholars tend to object to the grouping of events on the basis of similarity of wording. They point out that similar teachings and events are not necessarily identical, and might well have happened on more than one occasion with differing details of speech and sequence. In this view, history, not sources, accounts for many of the differences among the synoptic’s recordings of apparently similar events.


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