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The Gospels. Most of what we know of Jesus comes from the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. (Though the Gospels were written after most of Paul’s letters. Paul is actually believed to be the earliest writer to write about Jesus.)

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The Gospels

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The Gospels

  • Most of what we know of Jesus comes from the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

  • (Though the Gospels were written after most of Paul’s letters. Paul is actually believed to be the earliest writer to write about Jesus.)

  • Some scholars believe the Gospel of Thomas (not in the New Testament) is also an early-enough source to contain some reliable sayings of Jesus.

  • Hardly any scholars think that any other gospels (e.g., Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Judas, etc.) contain any reliable historical information.


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An Aside: Historical Claims about Jesus in the NT Outside the Gospels

  • Jesus was a human person (Paul, Hebrews, non-Christian writings)

  • Jesus was a Jew (Paul, Hebrews, non-Christian writings)

  • Jesus was of the tribe of Judah (Hebrews)

  • Jesus was a descendent of David (Paul)

  • Jesus’ mission was to the Jews (Paul, non-Christian writings)

  • Jesus was a teacher (Paul, James, non-Christian writings)

  • Jesus was tested (Hebrews)

  • Jesus prayed using the word Abba (Paul)

  • Jesus prayed for deliverance from death (Hebrews)

  • Jesus suffered (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)

  • Jesus interpreted his last meal with reference to his death (Paul, non-Christian writings)

  • Jesus underwent a trial (Paul, non-Christian writings)

  • Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul, non-Christian writings)

  • Jesus’ end involved some Jews (Paul, non-Christian writings)

  • Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter, non-Christian writings)

  • Jesus was buried (Paul)

  • Jesus appeared to witnesses after his death (Paul)

Source: Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), pp. 121-122


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  • “Gospel” means “Good News.” The word can refer to the message preached by Christians as well as to the four books we call “Gospels.”

  • The Greek word for “gospel” is ευαγγέλιον (ευ=“good”; αγγέλιον=“news” or “message”). In Latin it’s transliterated to evangelium (“u” and “v” are the same letter in early Latin).

  • From that we get the words “evangelical” (someone focused on the good news) and “evangelist” (proclaimer of the good news).

  • And authors of the four Gospels are also called the Evangelists.

  • Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the Synoptic Gospels because they share a common (“syn”) viewpoint (“optic”).

  • They are similar to each other. The Gospel of John is quite different.


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The Synoptic Gospels

Begin with John the Baptist or birth and childhood stories

Jesus is baptized by John

Jesus speaks in parables and aphorisms

Jesus is a sage

Jesus is an exorcist

God’s reign is the theme of Jesus’ own gospel (good news)

Jesus has little to say about himself

Jesus espouses the causes of the poor and oppressed

The public ministry lasts one year

The temple incident is late

Jesus eats a last supper with his disciples

The Gospel of John

Begins with creation; no birth or childhood stories.

Baptism of Jesus is not mentioned

Jesus speaks in long involved discourses

Jesus is a philosopher and mystic

Jesus performs no exorcisms

Jesus himself is the theme of his own teaching

Jesus reflects extensively on his own mission and person

Jesus has little or nothing to say about the poor and the oppressed

The public ministry lasts three years

The temple incident is early

Foot washing replaces the last supper

Adapted from Funk, et al., The Five Gospels (New York: Macmillan, 1993), p. 11


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Which of the Synoptic Gospels Came First?

  • While the Synoptic Gospels share much in common, they also diverge in significant ways.

  • While Matthew and Luke both begin with birth accounts (Mark does not), they don’t agree very closely until they get to Jesus’ baptism, which is where Mark begins.

  • While Matthew and Luke both end with stories of the risen Jesus appearing (Mark does not), these stories don’t agree very closely either—they stop agreeing very closely after Mark’s stopping point.

  • Often all three Gospels follow the same order. When they don’t, then usually Matthew and Mark agree against Luke, or Luke and Mark agree against Matthew, but Matthew and Luke only rarely agree against Mark.

  • Therefore, most scholars conclude that Matthew and Luke came after Mark, and that they used Mark for the outline of their own accounts.


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Luke 4:40-41

As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.

Matthew 8:16-17

That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

Mark 1:32-34

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.


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Matthew 20:29-34

As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

Mark 10:46-52

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Luke 18:35-43

As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.


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Luke 24:1-10

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.

Matthew 28:1-8

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Mark 16:1-8

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.


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The Q Document

  • While Matthew and Luke follow Mark’s outline, they also share considerable material in common (about 200 verses) that does not appear in Mark at all. Again, they agree very closely, even in word usage.

  • Almost all of this material consists of sayings or parables.

  • Much of this material is also found in the Gospel of Thomas.

  • Therefore, most scholars conclude that there is another source that Matthew and Luke drew upon, which they have dubbed Q (from the German word “Quelle” which means “source”).

  • Nobody has ever found a copy of Q, but most scholars think it represents a common source, which may have been oral or written or a bit of both.


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Luke 6:20b-23

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

Matthew 5:3-12

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


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Matthew 6:9-13

“Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not bring us to the time of trial,

but rescue us from the evil one.”

Luke 11:2-4

He said to them, “When you pray, say:

Father,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.”


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Two Source Theory

Four Source Theory


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