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Literary Critical Approaches to Mark’s Gospel

Many twentieth century New Testament scholars concentrated on the history behind the text: who wrote the Gospel of Mark, when was it written, where was it written, to whom was it written, what are its sources and how was it used as a source, what form did its oral or written traditions take before they were included in it, how did the evangelist edit the traditions, and is the text a window into the life of Jesus or a mirror into the beliefs of the various Christ associations? Narrative or literary-critical approaches tend to bracket such historical-critical questions, for reconstructions of the “authorial intention” or the historical situation behind the text is always tentative, to closely read the text itself.  This approach may be interested in the structural elements of the narrative (plot, settings, round or flat characters, implied author, implied audience, narrative point of view, rhetorical techniques, etc.) or in how meaning is produced in the interaction between text and reader. This has also led to ideological approaches that emphasize the reader’s own social location, for the former hegemony of white, male, liberal Protestants from Germany over the biblical studies guild impacted upon the research questions that were brought to the text, and has opened up the field to perspectives or readings from those who have been marginalized. Such approaches may include poststructuralism, liberation theology, postcolonial criticism, or feminist criticism.Here is a sample of literary or ideological studies of Mark’s Gospel:

  • Anderson, Janice Capel and Moore, Stephen D. Editors. Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies.  Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992.
  • Belo, Fernando. A Materialist Reading of the Gospel of Mark. Translated by Matthew J. O’Connel. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1981.
  • Best, Ernest. Mark: The Gospel as Story. Revised Edition.  Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000.
  • Dewey, Joanna. Markan Public Debate:  Literary Technique, Concentric Structure and Theology in Mark 2:1-3:6. Chicago: Scholars Press, 1980.
  • Fowler, Robert. Loaves and Fishes: The Function of the Feeding Stories in the Gospel of Mark. Chicago: Scholars Press, 1981.
  • Fowler, Rober M. Let the Reader Understand:  Reader-Response Criticism and the Gospel of Mark. Harrisburg: Trinity, 1991.
  • Gray, Timothy C. The Temple in the Gospel of Mark: A Study in Its Narrative Role. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010.
  • Horsley, Richard. Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel.  Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.
  • Humphrey, Hugh M. ‘He is Risen!’:  A New Reading of Mark’s Gospel.  New York: Paulist, 1992.
  • Iverson, Kelly R. and Skinner, Christopher W. Editors. Mark as Story: Retrospect and Prospect. Atlanta: SBL, 2011.
  • Kingsbury, Jack Dean. Conflict in Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989.
  • Jack Dean Kingsbury, The Christology of Mark’s Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989.
  • Levine, Amy-Jill. Editor. A Feminist Companion to Mark. Sheffield: Sheffield University Press, 2001.
  • Liew, Tat-siong Benny. “Tyranny, Boundary and Might: Colonial Mimicry in Mark’s Gospel.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 73 (1999): 7-31.
  • Politics of Parousia: Reading Mark Inter(con)textually. Biblical Interpretation Series 44. Leiden: Brill, 1999.
  • Malbon, Elizabeth Struthers. “Fallible Followers Women and Men in the Gospel of Mark.” Semeia 28 (1983): 29-48. 
  • Malbon, Elizabeth Struthers. Narrative Space and Mythic Meaning in Mark. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986.
  • Malbon, Elizabeth Struthers. In the Company of Jesus: Characters in Mark’s Gospel. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000.
  • Malbon, Elizabeth Struthers. Mark’s Jesus: Characterization as Narrative Christology. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009.
  • Maloney, Francis J. Mark: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004.
  • Moore, Stephen D. Mark and Luke in Poststructuralist Perspectives: Jesus Begins to Write. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992.
  • Moore, Stephen D.  “Mark and Empire.” Pages 70-90 in Recognizing the Margins: Developments in Biblical and Theological Studies. Essays in Honor of Sean Freyne.  Edited by Werner G. Jeanrond and A. D. H. Mayes. Dublin, Ireland: Columba, 2006.
  • Myers, Ched. Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus.  Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988.
  • Peterson, Dwight N. The Origins of Mark: The Markan Community in Current Debate.  Leiden: Brill, 2000.
  • Powell, Mark Allan. “Toward a Narrative-Critical Understanding of Mark.”  Interpretation 47 (1993): 341-46.
  • Rhoads, David and Michie, Donald. Mark as Story:  An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982.
  • Rhodes, David, Joanna Dewey, and Donald Michie. Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel. Second Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999.
  • Skinner, Christopher L. and Hauge, Matthew Ryan. Editors. Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.
  • Smith, Stephen H. A Lion With Wings: A Narrative-Critical Approach to Mark’s Gospel.  The Biblical Seminar 38. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.
  • Tannehill, Robert C. “The Disciples in Mark: The Function of a Narrative Role.” The Journal of Religion 57 (1977): 386-405
  • Tolbert, Mary Ann. Sowing the Gospel:  Mark’s World in a Literary-Historical Perspective. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989.
  • Van Iersel, Bas M.F. Mark: A Reader-Response Commentary. London and New York: T&T Clark, 1998.

Does the Relationship between the Synoptic Gospels Matter?

This was a post that was originally published on the defunct blog Bible Study and the Christian Life

When I once was teaching on the Synoptic Problem, I had a student ask in a theological context whether any of it mattered at all. I began answering the question in the typical ambiguously professorial way that it both does and does not matter. 🙂

For those interested in the Gospels as literature, the focus may be on how each Gospel retells the plot of the story of Jesus on its own terms rather than bringing in possible sources and hypothetical historical scenarios behind the writing of that Gospel.

For the pastor or priest at church who wants to explain the theological vision of a particular Gospel to her or his congregation, the focus should again be on the inspired Gospel texts rather than the sources the Gospel may or may not have used. I can imagine many a bad sermon that tries to preach on “Q”, “M” or “L” rather than Matthew, Mark, Luke or John!

On the other hand, for historians who want to know more about what Jesus said and did during his lifetime, it matters how many independent early sources we have about him.  Are there a number of early sources in addition to the New Testament Gospels (Q, M or material used only by Matthew, L or material used only by Luke), not to mention whether there are other Gospels not found in the New Testament that contain some historical information, or are we mainly working with the Synoptic Gospels alone.

Historians may also be interested in how Jesus is remembered over time and how his story is retold in changing historical circumstances, observing how Matthew and Luke may edit Mark’s Gospel in support of developing theological views. Each Gospel writer tried to make the story of Jesus relevant to audiences living in different times and social circumstances, just as many church leaders try to apply different stories about Jesus to how church congregations should live in the twenty-first century.

Theologians may also get a clearer window into the theological interests of each individual writer based on how the Gospels use their sources. We have seen how Matthew and Luke may update Mark’s story of Jesus’ baptism to avoid any implication that Jesus was sinful or inferior to John, a potential theological liability that may have not crossed Mark’s mind. We have also seen Luke’s care for the poor shine through by the way the author edits or adds to his sources [e.g. compare Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-26].

In the end, the church chose to have four Gospels rather than stick with a single one. Together the Gospels give us a fuller picture of who Jesus was than would be available by reading them in isolation, for each Gospel works with traditions about Jesus that came before them yet shapes them into a new narrative of Jesus that met the needs of a new generation of believers.

Introducing the Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew

Authorship: External Evidence

“Now this is reported by Papias about Mark, but about Matthew this was said, Now Matthew compiled the reports [or “oracles”] in a Hebrew manner of speech, but each interpreted them as he could” (Papias, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.16)

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘You are like a just messenger.’ Matthew said to him, ‘You are like a wise philosopher.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.'” (the Gospel of Thomas 13)

“So Matthew, among the Hebrews in their own dialect, brought forth a writing of the gospel when Peter and Paul in Rome were evan­geli­zing and founding the church…” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1)

“Those who are called Ebionites [a Jewish Christian sect] agree that the world was made by God; but their opinions with respect to the Lord are similar to those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates. They use the Gospel according to Matthew only, and repudiate the Apostle Paul, maintaining that he was an apostate from the law.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.26.2)

“The Gospels containing the genealogies, he [Clement] says, were written first” [or] “He [Clement] said that those gospels with genealogies were openly published.” (Clement of Alexandria, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6)

“… first, written was Matthew, once publican but later apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for the believers from Judaism, composed in Hebrew letters…” (Origen of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.25.4)

“Now in what they [the Ebionites] call a Gospel according to Matthew, though it is not the entire Gospel but is corrupt and mutilated—and they call this thing ‘Hebrew’!” (Epiphanius, Panarion 30.13.2)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

  • The Gospel is formally anonymous and opens up with a genealogy tracing Jesus’s descent back to Abraham and David (Matt 1:1-17).
  • The Greek text of the Gospel does not appear to be a translation from Aramaic or Hebrew. Its main narrative source, Mark’s Gospel, was a Greek text; it may have been indebted to a second Greek document in the Q sayings source or inherited the sayings that it shared in common with Luke from a mixture of oral and written sources. It seems to largely depend on written sources rather than on an eyewitness informant.
  • The name of the tax collector “Levi” in Mark 2:14 is changed to “Matthew” in Matthew 9:9 and “the tax collector” is appended to Matthew’s name in the list of twelve apostles in Matthew 10:2-4.


  • Matthew’s Gospel has to postdate Mark’s Gospel since it was literarily dependent on the latter.
  • Matthew may have been aware of the fire that burned down the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 22:7).
  • Scholars debate whether Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 110 CE) referred to Matthew’s Gospel, a sayings source underlying Matthew’s Gospel, another lost source, or the so-called “Gospel according to the Hebrews” cited by various Patristic authorities.
  • There seems to be references to the text of Matthew in the Didache (8:2; 11:3; 15:3, 4) and the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch (Smyrn. 1.1; 6.1; Phil. 2.2; Eph. 5.2; 6.1; Rom. 9.3; Trall. 11.1; Poly. 1.2-3; 2.2).


The external church tradition has Matthew’s Gospel originally written to the Jews in a Semitic language. It could have been written in Syria-Palestine, possibly in the city of Antioch because this was a popular center for Jewish/non-Jewish Christ followers and fits with the early reception of the Gospel there. The provenance is ultimately a mystery.

Key Themes

  • Jesus is a new Moses who escapes the slaughter of the infants ordered by a tyrant, lived in Egypt (Matt 2:13-20), performed sea and feeding miracles (Matt 14:14-33), delivered his law on a mountain (Matt 5-7), and had his teaching organized in five thematic discourses that ended with a statement about “when Jesus had finished these words/parables/teachings” (7:28; 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).
  • Discipleship to Jesus is completely compatible with observance of the Torah and the righteousness of Jesus’s followers ought to exceed that of the Pharisees (Matt 5:17-20; 23:2-3). Matthew’s audience may have been Torah-observant Jewish Christ followers involved in a fierce debate with other Jewish groups such as the Pharisees (Matt 23:1-39) and engaged in a mission to the nations (27:18-20).
  • Matthew may combine Mark’s emphasis on Jesus’s vicarious death with the emphasis on Jesus as an authoritative teacher in other sources.
  • Matthew’s Gospel seems to have a higher Christology than its sources. Matthew cites the Septuagint on how a virgin will give birth to a child called Emmanuel or “God with us” (1:23), is present with the fellowship of believers who gather in his name (18:19), and has all authority in heaven and earth invested in him as well as advises his disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (28:8-10). Matthew seems to explicitly identify the sage Jesus with Lady Wisdom (compare Matthew 11:28-30 with Sirach 51:25-26 and Matthew 24:34-35 with Luke 11:49).
  • Matthew seems to rehabilitate Peter and the disciples. Peter asks to walk on the water after seeing Jesus perform this feat, and although Jesus has to catch him when he begins to sink, the disciples respond by worshipping Jesus as the Son of God rather than being perplexed with hard hearts (Matt 14:26-32; cf. Mark 6:49-52). After Peter’s confession of Jesus’s messianic identity at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus gives him the keys of the kingdom and praises him (or his confession) as the foundational “rock” of the church (Matt 16:13-20; cf. Mark 8:27-31).

An Annotated Bibliography on the Date of Mark’s Gospel

Martin Hengel (Studies in Mark) sets the terminus ad quem for Mark in its use by Matthew and Luke, the reference to “this generation,” and some original witnesses who had not died (7-10). The terminus a quo is based on the time it takes to translate tradition from Aramaic to Greek, the waning of eschatological enthusiasm encouraging the writing of a Jesus’ biography, the re-working of the sayings traditions and Passion Narrative, the presupposition of a worldwide mission (13:10, 14:9), the relaxation of the ritual laws for Gentiles, the martyrdoms of the sons of Zebedee (10:39), and the distant reflection of the news of the Jewish War (12-14). The advice in 13:14 to flee would not make sense once Titus set up a circumvallatio around the city and the abomination cannnot be Titus who immediately left the temple and city (18-20); he dates it to 69 CE in the year of three emperors (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) which provoked fears of Roman Christians of a future Nero redivivus (22-28).

Ched Myers (Binding the Strong Man, 41) argues that Mark must be prior to 70 but during the revolt in order to understand its ideology and critique of the current temple state and political order and its advocacy of revolutionary non-violence. He critiques post-70 daters as influenced by a “docetic” tendency to remove the political critique and see Mark in light of a “theological” rift with the cult and with “Judaism.” Richard Horsley (Hearing the Whole Storylargely agrees that Mark is a story of a village-based Israelite renewal movement against the Roman-designated Jerusalem elites (48-50), obscured by its reduction to “Scripture” and “theology” (27-28), and that the advice of 13:14 and the warnings of false messiahs/prophets would be pointless if the results of the War were already known (131). Myers locates the evangelist in Galilee and Horsley in Syria.

John Kloppenborg (“Evocatio Deorum“) grants that 13:14 was part of an apocalyptic tractate in response to Caligula’s plans to put his statue in the temple before his assassination in Jan 24, 41 CE (cf. Theissen, Context) or another apocalyptic scenario (2 Thess 2:14) (422-26). Yet 13:1-2 frames the chapter around the Temple destruction, a key theme from chapters 11 to 15 (427-28). While oracles of the Temple’s destruction are in the Scriptures and later (e.g. 1 En. 98:20-30; War 300-309; Lam Rab 1:31), they are uncommon and 13:2 is specific (430-31, 434). After describing the Roman ritual of evocatio deorum to invoke alien gods to flee locales devoted to destruction (434-41), he finds evidence of the ritual in Mark’s narrative recasting of a Q saying (Matt 23:38/Lk 13:35) and account of the cosmic darkness and tearing of the curtain (15:36-38) (448-49). Similar omens occur in Josephus or Tacitus; Josephus’ apologetic is that Providence was on Rome’s side (442-44). The effectiveness of this ritual could only be narrated in historiography retrospectively after a successful siege (434, 444).

Joel Marcus (Sitz Im Leben), in contrast to Hengel’s claim that Mark had no familiarity with what transpired during the Jewish War in hearing the news from Rome, argues that Mark was written from one of the Transjordan Hellenistic cities attacked at the start of the War (461-62). Mark protests that the temple was a house of revolutionary bandits (lēstēs) (cf. Josephus, War 4.3.7-8; 5.1.2; for Zealots used for revolutionaries in general see War 2.17.9; 4.9.10) under Elezar son of Simon. The abomination is Eleazar’s occupation of the temple in 67-68 CE. The Markan community was persecuted for its Gentile inclusiveness and protests in the Temple’s Court of Gentiles, since the Zealots wanted to cleanse the site of foreign influence and held mock trials of opponents. Mark’s triumphal entry is the anti-type of the messianic entry of Simon bar Giora in April-May 69  (448-59). Mark wrote in hindsight and sees the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE as punishment for closing the door on Gentiles and turning the place into the seat of revolutionary violence (461-62)

Hendrika Roskam (The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark) interprets four passages as pointing to a post-70 date: 12:9 reflects that the tenants (religious leaders) will be destroyed and the vineyard (Israel) given to others (Romans), 13:2 reflects the fall of the Temple and its inaccuracies no more relevant than those in Josephus, 13:14 is not just the Temple’s profanation but its destruction with the Roman general or army standing in the courtyard now (nun) (13:9), and 15:38 is an omen of the temple’s fate (81-94). She situates Mark in post-war Galilee and argues that 13:9 depicts the post-70 context where the eastern part was ruled by a king and the western part by a Roman legate (112-13). Mark’s depoliticized the kingdom and the title Christ so as not to be seen as a subversive movement and get handed over by Jewish authorities in the region to the Romans.

Brian Incigneri (to the Romans; cf. Head’s article) dates Mark to Vespasian’s triumph in 71 CE. He defends a post-70 date: Matthew or Luke are no more accurate on the Roman siege (Luke 21:24 reflects 2 Kings 25:1), Jesus’ predictions are mostly fulfilled, the Romans had no policy of destroying temples (cf. Kloppenborg, 434), 13:2 is generally accurate while Josephus exaggerates the fire (cf. War, the desolator in 13:14 is Titus standing in the Temple and Josephus shows it was possible to flee (War 6.382), and Mark has temple replacement imagery (11:22-25; 14:58) (117-55). His mirror-reading of Mark finds many allusions to Vespasian (cf. 156-252). The crucifixion is modeled on an imperial triumph (purple robe, crown, whole guard, Golgotha meaning “head” or Capitoline Hill, the time of day, etc), the healing of a blind man with spittle (7:32-38; 8:22-26) echoes Vespasian (Tacitus, Hist. 4.81), 14:47 reflects a supporter of Vitellius who cut the ear of the Tribune guarding him (Hist. 3.84), Herod & Herodias are like Titus & Queen Bernice, James & John are like Vespasian’s ambitious sons, the Gerasene demoniac echoes the 10th Legion whose symbol was a boar, the dividing of Satan’s kingdom reflects prior civil war in Rome, the controversy on taxes becomes acute with Jews forced to pay for the Temple of Jupiter in Rome, 15:38 reflects the parading of the outer curtain of the Temple in Rome, and so on.

Adam Winn (Purpose) places Mark in the same time and place as Incigneri, but he sees the desolator in 13:14 as a future antichrist figure (69-75). He has criteria to decide if Mark wrote pre- or post-factum: Specificity, Reasonableness, Similarity, Motivation, and Risk-Reward (58-67). Only his last two criteria rules for post-factum as Christian literature is largely silent on the Temple’s destruction before Mark and Mark would not risk linking Jesus’ prophetic powers to the Temple given a chance the prediction could be falsified (61-67). He agrees on allusions to Vespasian and judges Mark to counter imperial propaganda about a messianic prophecy of Vespasian (Josephus, War 6.312-13; Tacitus, Hist. 5.13.1-2; Seutonius, Vesp. 4.5) (157-67).

Burton Mack (Myth of Innocence) argues that Mark wrote in the 7os in southern Syria, close enough to feel the vibrations from the Jewish War but without direct involvement (315). It is a product of a failed synagogue reform movement (cf. pronouncement stories) that turned bitter and threatened apocalyptic judgement on its foes; Mark is a charter document and new myth of origins combining Jesus traditions with Paul’s kerygma for a community stressing its independent of the synagogue. Mack judges the concept of an anti-temple Messiah to be a contradiction in terms formulated after the temple’s destruction (282). William Arnal (“Reflection on Exile and Identity”) puts Mark in the early-mid 70s in a region affected by the Jewish War (60), but he questions the confidence of what we can know about a discrete “Markan” community in a specific locale since this is creatively obscured by the author (59). Instead, Arnal views Mark as a commentary on exile, social dislocation, and ethnic identity in light of the fall-out of the Jewish War (60, 65).

James Crossley (Date of Mark’s Gospel) takes on the consensus of dating Mark 65-75 CE. He severs the link of Mark 13 to the War (ch. 2) as there may be several referents (Herod Antipas conflict with Aretas of Nabatea, Caligula crisis, persecutions in 1 Thessalonians 2:14 or in Acts, an early outreach to non-Jews, etc). He deconstructs the case for a long period of development based on form criticism, Markan redaction reflecting the fall or replacement of the temple, influence from Paul, and so on (ch. 3). He re-dates Mark’s Gospel to the 40s by arguing that it presupposes a Law observant movement not yet impacted by Paul’s law-free Gentile mission or debates of the Jerusalem Council, while Matthew and Luke respond to these developments (e.g. Matt 5:17; Acts 11-12). His last two chapters contend that Mark’s legal verdicts on Sabbath, divorce, or purity do not violate biblical law; he re-reads 7:1-23 as a coherent whole dealing with hand-washing (7:2-5) and opposes the oral tradition (cf. Corban) that unwashed hands render food unclean.

Other interesting dissertations to note:

Hyun Chul Won’s PhD Thesis “The Date of Mark’s Gospel: A Perspective on its Eschatological Expectation

Jesse Luke Richards’ MA Thesis “Jesus, the Jewish Law, and the Gospel of Mark: A Critical Evaluation of a Proposed Early Date for the Composition of Mark

Notes on Mark’s Provenance

A Roman Provenance

  1. Patristic Evidence: the surviving fragments of Papias do not mention where Mark composed the Gospel, but Papias consulted 1 Peter (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.2; 3.39.17) which seems to associate Mark/Peter with “Babylon” or Rome (1 Pet 5:12-13). Irenaeus mentions that Mark wrote the Gospel after the exodus (departure, euphemism for death?) of Peter and Paul in Rome (Against Heresies 3.1.2), but this may indicate the time rather than place of writing. Clement of Alexandria explicitly deduces from 1 Peter that Mark wrote for Peter’s hearers in Rome (in Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 6.14.5-7; Adumbrationes in 1 Peter 5.13), while the so-called Anti-Marcionite Prologue vaguely places Mark in the regions of Italy. Only John Chrysostom offers an alternative in placing the Gospel in Alexandria (cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.16.1; Jerome, Illustrious Men 8).
  2. Latinisms: The following list is from Stein (Mark, 9-10): 2:23 to make a road [hodon poiein, Lat. iter facere]; 2:4, 9, 11, 12, 6:55 mat [krabattos, Lat. Grabatus]; 4:21 basket [modios, Lat. modius]; 5:9, 15 legion [legiōn, Lat. legio]; 6:27 soldier of the guard [spekoulatōr, Lat. speculator]; 6:37, 12:15, 14:5 denarius [dēnarion, Lat. denarius]; 7:3 fist [pygmē, Lat. pugnus]; 7:4 pitcher [xestēs, Lat. sextarius]; 12:14 tax [kēnson, Lat census]; 12:42 penny [kodrantēs, Lat. quadrans]; 15:39, 44, 45 centurion [kentyriōn, Lat. centurio]; 15:15 to satisfy [to hikanon poiēsai, Lat. satis facere]; scourge [phragelloō, Lat. flagello]; 15:16 praetorium [praitōrion; Lat. praetorium).  Van Iersel (Reader-Response Commentary, 34-35) spots two more Latinisms in Mark not following the Greek word order (i.e. the accusative or dative generally follows the verb to which they belong) but the reverse order in Latin and in the use of hina in a similar way to the Latin ut.
  3. The reference to a Syrophoenician woman by tribe (Syrophoinikissa tō genei) is redundant for a Greek-speaking audience in the East, but necessary for a Roman audience to distinguish the Phoenicians of Syria from the more familiar Libyphoenicians (Libyphoinikes) of Carthage (Lucilius, Book 15, fr.496f; Juvenal, Sat. 8.159f; Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 7.201; Syrophoenix as special indication of origin in Latin inscriptions in Italy and Africa) (cf. Hengel, Studies, 29).
  4. The kind of persecution to the point of crucifixion could have the Neronian persecution in mind (Tacitus, Ann 15.44), which may have claimed the lives of Peter and Paul (1 Clement 5-6; Ignatius Romans 4:2-3; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.2; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.25.7), and Mark comforted Christians who failed or betrayed the community under duress by showing how the Twelve equally betrayed Jesus to save themselves yet were restored to fellowship (16:7).
  5. The social reality presumed in the text (e.g. agriculture, housing, land-ownership, socioeconomic status) used in support of a provenance in rural Syria or Palestine may be equally compatible with a Roman setting (cf. Incigneri, Gospel to the Romans, 65-82) or an author in Rome had access to traditions about the Galilean Jesus.
  6. As for Mark’s supposed ignorance on the geography and customs of Palestine, 7:31 has Jesus travel from Tyre 22 miles/35 km north to Sidon, southeast through middle of the Decapolis, and northwest to Sea of Galilee. 11:1 has the order Jericho, Jerusalem, Bethpage, and Bethany. In 5:1-20 the pigs stampede over 30 miles/48 km from Gerasa to the Sea of Galilee, causing the textual variants Gadarenes and Gergasenes. As for the latter, scholars often cite the mistaken high priest (2:26), the reference to “all” Jews obeying the custom of hand-washing (7:4), the dismissal of the food laws (7:19b), the possible influence of Roman divorce law (10:12), the day-day rather than night-night calendar in dating Passover (14:13), and so on. Mark’s alleged errors, explanations of Aramaic terms or Jewish customs, and lack of specific information on the Jewish War besides stereotyped apocalyptic imagery (ch. 13) may suggest a predominantly non-Jewish audience far from Palestine.
  7. Hengel dates Mark between Nero’s suicide in 68 CE and the winter of 69 CE when there was a rapid succession of 3 emperors in a year (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) and a fourth claimant on his way to Rome (Vespasian); 13:14 may hint at a Nero redivivus expected in the future. Incigneri argues Mark was written in light of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE and triumph of Vespasian in 71 CE; Mark parodies the propaganda of Vespasian including healing a blind man with spittle or a man with a withered hand and returning to Rome parading the outer veil of the Temple  (Gospel to the Romans, 156-207; cf. Head, “Roman Document,” 245-58; Winn, Purpose, 153-67).
  • Black, C. Clifton.  Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter.  Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001.
  • Brandon, S.F.G. Jesus and the Zealots: A study of the political factor in primitive Christianity. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1967.
  • Donahue, John R.  “Windows and Mirrors: The Setting of Mark’s Gospel.”  Catholic Biblical Quarterly 57 (1995): 1-26.
  • France, R.T.  The Gospel of Mark.  NIGTC; Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2002.
  • Head, Ivan.  “Mark as a Roman Document from the Year 69: Testing Martin Hengel’s Thesis.”  Journal of Religious History 28 (2004): 240-59.
  • Gundry, Robert.  Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.
  • Hengel, Martin.  Studies in the Gospel of Mark.  Fortress: Philadelphia, 1985.
  • Incigneri, Brian J.  The Gospel to the Romans: The Setting and Rhetoric of Mark’s Gospel.  Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2003.
  • Lane, William L.  The Gospel According to Mark.  The New International Commentary on the New Testament.Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974.
  • Martin, R.P.  Mark: Evangelist and Theologian.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.
  • Stein, Robert H.  Mark.  Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008
  • Taylor, Vincent.  The Gospel According to St. Mark.  New York: St Martin’s Press, 1966.
  • Winn, Adam.  The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel: An Early Christian Response to Roman Imperialism.  WUNT 2.245, Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2008.
  • Witherington, Ben.  The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.
  • van Iersel, Bas M.F.  Mark: A Reader-Response Commentary.  Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.

A Syrian Provenance

  1. Clement of Alexandria did not locate Mark in Rome based on historical-critical considerations, but due to (i) the association of the evangelist with Peter in Papias, (ii) the tradition of Peter’s ministry and martyrdom in Rome, and (iii) the inference from 1 Peter 5:13.
  2. The Latin loan-words are primarily related to political, military, and economic administration known throughout the empire due to Roman rule (legio, praetorium) and many occur independently in other Gospels or Hellenistic literature. Mark clarifies imprecise Greek terms by precise Latin ones (e.g., in 12:42 quadrans was proverbial as the minimum unit of money, while the mention of two lepta actually supports a provenance in the East) (Theissen, Gospels in Context, 247-49; Collins, Mark, 10, 99-100; Marcus, Mark 1-8, 32-33). Finally, a one-sided discussion of the latinisms overlooks the number of Aramaic terms and Aramaicisms in Mark (e.g. Maurice Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, 140-44 argues against the view that behind Mark 2:23 hodon poiein [to make a road] is the latinism iter facere and sees an underlying Aramaic term mistranslated).
  3. Theissen notes that the Latin “Syrophoenix” was borrowed from a Greek construction as the Romans ordinary spoke of “Punii” (poeni), with Syrophoenician first used to distinguish from Libyphoenicians in Diodorus of Sicily (20.55.4), and the term could be used in the East for residents of southern Syria (Gospels in Context, 245-47). Marcus argues that the term does not specify a particular kind of Phoenician, but a particular kind of Syrian, someone who intermarried with the Phoenicians or was from the Phoenician part of the province of Syria (Mark 1-8, 33).
  4. Kee’s sociological study emphasized that Mark reflects an Eastern rural or village culture (Community, 100-105). Theissen argues that Mark’s references to the “Sea [thalassa] of Galilee” (the region in the genitive) does not correspond to Greek or Latin, for lakes or oceans are usually described by an adjective, and one familiar with the wider Mediterranean would hardly call a little Galilean lake a “sea” (Gospels in Context, 237-38). Van Iersel (Reader-Response Commentary, 36-37) responds that the expression is in the Septuagint (LXX Exod 10:19; Num 34:3, 6, 11, 12; Josh 3:16; 8:9; 12:3, 7; 13:27; 10:46; 18:19; 2 Chron 2:16; Ezek 47-48, etc.). Simon of Cyrene and his sons are known to Mark’s audience in 15:41 (cf. Acts 11:20) and Matthew, usually located in Antioch or Syria in general, quickly used Mark  (Boring, Mark, 19).
  5. Familiarity with the Jewish War: the temple is overrun with bandits (lēstēs in Mark 11:17 is in Josephus for “revolutionaries”) and the abomination in 13:14 may be the zealot Eleazar’s occupation of the temple in 67-68 CE (cf. Joel Marcus’ “The Jewish War and the Sitz Im Leben of Mark”). The warning to “flee to the hills” in 13:14 would be meaningless to a distant Roman, though it could be a hint that the readers fled Judea to a Decapolis city such as Pella (?), and persecution in Mark mainly comes from local councils, synagogues, and governors/rulers (13:9). Collins (Mark, 99-100) points out that the reference to “take up the cross” could be metaphorical (cf. Plutarch Moralia Sera 554A-B) and that crucifixion was a reality in eastern provinces.
  6. Mark shows no contact with Paul’s epistle to the Romans, lacking knowledge of Paul’s discussions on the “law”, “righteousness of God” or cosmic Christology, nor with later Roman texts such as 1 Peter or 1 Clement (Boring, Mark, 18-19).
  7. The translation of Aramaic terms and explanations of Jewish customs (e.g., 7:3-4, 11; 14:1, 12; 15:42) may still presuppose a predominantly non-Jewish audience and the geographical errors (5:1; 7:31; 10:1) an author outside of Palestine.
  • Boring, M. Eugene.  Mark: A Commentary.  The New Testament Library. Westminster John Knox Press:Louisville,London, 2006.
  • Collins, Adela.  Mark: A Commentary.  Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007.
  • Horsley, Richard A.  Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel.  Louisville; London; Leiden: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.
  • Kee, Howard Clark.  Community of the New Age: Studies in Mark’s Gospel.  Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977.
  • Koester, Helmut.  Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development.  London: SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity International, 1990.
  • Kummel, W.G.  Introduction to the New Testament.  Nashville: Abingdon, 1975.
  • Mack, Burton.  A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins.  Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.
  • Maloney, Francis J.  The Gospel of Mark.  Peabody: Hendrickson, 2002.
  • Marcus, Joel.  Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.  Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 2000.
  • Marcus, Joel. “The Jewish War and the Sitz Im Leben of Mark.”  Journal of Biblical Literature 111/3 (1992): 441-462.
  • Theissen, Gerd.  The Gospels in Context.  London and New York: T&T Clark, 1992.

A Galilean Provenance

  1. All the arguments for locating Mark near Palestine in Syria could apply to placing it within Galilee.
  2. Theological map: Galilee symbolizes the locus of divine revelation as the crowds are widely receptive to Jesus’s teaching and healing, despite the hostility of some political and religious elites (3:6), while Jesus is rejected in Jerusalem (cf. Loymeyer, Lightfoot). Kelber sees the dichotomy of Galilee and Jerusalem as representing two rival Christian centers: Mark polemicizes against the Jerusalem church (Jesus’ brothers, Peter, the  Twelve) that held the “false” eschatological belief that the parousia (coming) of Jesus would occur in Jerusalem, did not comprehend the nature of Jesus’ messiahship as the suffering Son of Man, and tried to keep the community exclusively Jewish. This polemical reading (cf. Tyson, Crossan, Weeden) is a popular explanation for Mark’s portrait of the disciples and interprets the silence at 16:8 to mean the Twelve were never restored to the movement in Galilee (16:7).
  3. The angel instructs the women to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where they “will see” (opsesthe, future of horaō) Jesus (16:8; cf. 14:28). Marxsen (Mark the Evangelist, 83-92) interprets 14:28 and 16:8 in reference to the future parousia (coming) of Jesus and Mark summons the community to gather in Galilee (cf. the tradition of the flight of Christians to Pella) to await the imminent return of Jesus.
  4. Roskam argues that Mark is familiar with Galilee but ignorant about everywhere else (5:1-20, 11:1) (Purpose, 95-100). Mark 1-4 and 8-9 are geographically sound. She outlines Jesus’ movements: to Nazareth (6:1), to Galilee  on the coast of the lake (6:30), to the west coast of lake somewhere in vicinity of Tiberius (6:35-44; cf. in 6:32 Jesus withdrew by boat to deserted place but does not cross the lake), to Bethsaida by ship ( 6:45, correctly placed on the north-east coast of lake) yet ends up in Gennesaret (likely north-west coast of Galilean Sea halfway between Tiberias and Bethsaida) (6:53), to Tyre (7:23, 7:24-30), and to Sidon and onward to the Decapolis (7:31-8:9). She argues that it is not unlikely for Jesus to travel from a coastal area (Tyre) to the middle of the Decapolis via the Galilean Sea and the only thing that makes the route awkward is that Mark does not realize quite how north Sidon is in relation to Tyre and the Sea (Purpose, 104-10). Alternatively, we should avoid anachronistic standards of cartographic exactness for authors who held ancient conceptions of space, covering Jerusalem and Galilee with which the author is familiar with more detail and flattening out/representing on a small scale locales on the boundary lands on the West (Tyre and Sidon) and the East (Gerasa) with which the author is less familiar (cf. Chapman, “Agrarian Biography”).
  5. Increasingly scholars are challenging the older view that Mark was ignorant of Jewish customs by arguing that Mark is an informed participant in debates on scripture exegesis or religious praxis (halakhah on the Sabbath, purity, korban). See Marcus, The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993; cf. commentaries); Collins, Mark (Fortress, 2007); Booth, Jesus and the Laws of Purity: History and Legal History in Mark 7 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986); Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (Cambridge University Press, 1998); Crossley,  “Halakah and Mark 7.4: ‘…and beds,’” JSNT 25 (2003); The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insights from the Law in Earliest Christianity (London: T & T Clark, 2004); “Mark 7:1-23: Revisiting the Question of all Foods Clean” pp 8-20; Ermakov, “The Salvific Significance of the Torah in Mark 10:17-22 and 12:28-34”  in Torah in the New Testament (ed. P. Oaks & M. Tait; London & New York: T&T Clark, 2009); Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ (New York: New Press, 2012).
  6. Myers argues that Mark advocates a just redistributive system for disenfranchised, landless Galilean peasants against the Roman imperial order and Temple elites. He writes, “Events had also changed the general political atmosphere; what was sporadic, predominantly rural resistance to Roman colonialism in Palestine at the time of Jesus had coalesced into a major, Jerusalem-centered insurrection at the time Mark wrote. Nevertheless, the basic social structures and dynamics that characterized this era did not alter significantly” (42). Roskam dates Mark post-70 (Purpose, 81-94) and sees “governors and kings” in 13:9 as reflecting the political situation of Galilee as the eastern part was ruled by Agrippa II and the western part by the Roman legate (112-13). Contrary to Meyers, she argues that Mark de-politicized the gospel and aimed its animosity at Jewish rather than Roman leaders.
  • Chapman, Dean W. “Locating the Gospel of Mark: A Model of Agrarian Biography.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 25 (1995): 24-36.
  • Kelber, W.H.  The Kingdom of Mark: A New Place and a New Time.  Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974.
  • Lightfoot, R.H.  Locality and Doctrine in the Gospels.  New York: Harper, 1938.
  • Lohmeyer, E. Galiläa und Jerusalem. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck, 1936.
  • Marxsen, Willi.  Mark the Evangelist: Studies on the Redaction History of the Gospel. Nashville andNew York: Abingdon Press, 1969.
  • Myers, Ched.  Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus.  Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988.
  • Roskam, H. N.  The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark in Its Historical and Social Context.  Leiden: Brill, 2004.
  • Vander Broek, L.D.  The Markan “Sitz im Leben”: A critical investigation into the possibility of a Palestinian setting for the Gospel. PhD-dissertation, Graduate School of Drew University, New Jersey, 1983.

The Irrelevance of the Local Audience of Mark?

Against the view that we can reconstruct the local community addressed by Mark from clues in the text, The Gospel for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences edited by Richard Bauckham takes on the Gospel community paradigm. The use of Mark by Matthew and Luke shows it achieved wide circulation, the interest in “Gospel communities” has a modern pedigree from B.H. Streeter through to the emphasis on the Sitz im Leben (situation in life) of the churches (form critics) or of the evangelist (redaction critics), the Gospels as biographies differ from epistles directed to a local address to substitute for when the author could not communicate in person, the objection that Christians were not isolated groups but networks in constant communication and traveling leaders, and the hermeneutical irrelevance of a “Gospel community” to interpreting the text (pp. 9-47). Bird adds that 1. arguments about a Markan community are “viciously circular, 2. the relationship with a community is ambiguous (for a community, allegorically about a community, in a community yet for wider circulation), 3. influence does not flow only in one direction but texts influence a sociohistorical situation as much as they are influenced by it, 4. our knowledge of the author is at a bare minimum and may have ministered in many geographical or cultural settings, 5. the genre of a Gospel is not conducive to in-house debates (unlike an epistle, testimony collection, or community rule), and 6. Mark is not primarily about a community but about Jesus (pp. 477-82).  Edward Klink, The Audience of the Gospels: The Origin and Function of the Gospels in Early Christianity (T&T Clark, 2010) and Dwight Peterson, The Origins of Mark: The Markan Community in Current Debate (Brill, 2000) (cf. RBL review) also react against the excessive mirror reading of Mark’s literary narrative in “Markan community” hypotheses. There are also critiques of Bauckham’s approach in the bibliography below.

  • Bauckham, Richard. “For Whom Were the Gospels Written.” Pages 9-48 in The Gospel for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences. Edited by Richard Bauckham. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1998.
  • Bauckham, Richard. “Response to Philip Esler.” SJT 51 (1998): 248-53.
  • Bird, Michael F. “The Markan Community, Myth or Maze?  Bauckham’s The Gospel for All Christians Revisited.” Journal of Theological Studies 57 (2006): 474-86.
  • Esler, P.F. ”Community and Gospel in Early Christianity: A Response to. Richard Bauckham’s Gospels for All Christians.”  SJT 51 (1998): 235-48.
  • Hengel, Martin. The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ. Translated by J. Bowden; London: SCM Press, 2000.
  • Incigneri, Brian J. The Gospel to the Romans: The Setting and Rhetoric of Mark’s Gospel.  Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2003.
  • Klink III, Edward W. (ed.). The Audience of the Gospels: The Origin and the Function of the Gospels in Early Christianity. LNTS; London: Continuum, 2010.
  • Marcus, Joel. Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.  Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 2000, pp. 25-28.
  • Mitchell, Margaret. “Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels were Written for all Christians.” New Testament Studies 51 (2005): 36-79.
  • Peterson, Dwight. The Origins of Mark: The Markan Community in Current Debate. Leiden: Brill, 2000.
  • Roskam, H. N. The Purpose of the Gospel of Mark in Its Historical and Social Context.  NovTSup 114; Leiden: Brill, 2004.
  • Sim, David C. “The Gospel for All Christians?: A Response to Richard Bauckham,” JSNT 84 (2001): 3-27.
  • Van Eck, Ernest. “A Sitz for the Gospel of Mark: A Critical Reaction to Bauckham’s Theory on the universality of the Gospels.” HTS 56 (2000): 200-235.

Introducing the Gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark

Authorship: External Evidence

“And the presbyter [or “elder”] would say this: ‘Mark, who had indeed been Peter’s interpreter [hermēneutēs],  accurately wrote as much as he remembered, yet not in order, about that which  was either said or did by the Lord. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but later, as I said, Peter, who would make the teachings anecdotally but not exactly an arrangement of the Lord’s reports, so that Mark did not fail by writing certain things as he recalled. For he had one purpose, not to omit what he heard or falsify them.’” (Papias, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15)

“… but after their [Peter’s and Paul’s] depar­ture Mark, the disciple and inter­preter of Peter, he too handed what was preached by Peter down to us in writing…” (Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 3.1.1)

“but Mark had this procedure: when Peter was in Rome preaching in public the word and proclaiming the gospel by the spirit, those present, who were many, entreated Mark, as one who followed him for a long time and remembered what was said, to record what was spoken; but after he composed the gospels, he shared it with anyone who wanted it; when Peter found out about it, he did not actively discourage or encourage it.” (Clement of Alexandria, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6-7)

“And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the needs of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark. And they say that Peter – when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done – was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches. Clement in the eighth book of his Hypotyposes gives this account… (Clement of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2)

“but second, Mark, who composed as Peter led him, whom he avowed as son in the catholic epistle, saying as follows: ‘She who is in Babylon, chosen together, sends you greetings and so does my son Mark’ [1 Peter 5:13]…” (Origen of Alexandria, in Ecclesiastical History 6.25.5)

“Mark made his assertion, who was also named stubby-fingers, on account that he had in comparison to the length of the rest of his body shorter fingers. He was a disciple and interpreter of Peter, whom he followed just as he heard him report. When he was requested at Rome by the brethren, he briefly wrote this gospel in parts of Italy. When Peter heard this, he approved and affirmed it by his own authority for the reading of the church. Truly, after the departure of Peter, this gospel which he himself put together having been taken up, he went away into Egypt and, ordained as the first bishop of Alexandria, announcing Christ, he constituted a church there.” (The Anti-Marcionite Prologue to  Mark’s Gospel)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

  • The Gospel is formally anonymous and its opening verse launches right into the subject of the “gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1).
  • Peter is an important literary character, mentioned 25 times from his initial call to discipleship to his getting singled out to be the recipient of the good news about the risen Jesus (Mark 1:16; 16:7). In the middle of the narrative, he makes the central confession that Jesus is the Messiah (8:29). Peter was one of the three core disciples of Jesus (i.e. Peter, James, John) and the leading spokesperson of the twelve apostles.
  • Peter is often represented ambivalently or negatively. He made impulsive statements (Mark 9:5; 10:28; 14:29), is rebuked for acting like “Satan” in opposing Jesus’s mission to die (8:32-33), fell asleep during Jesus’s hour of greatest need (14:37), and denied Jesus three times (14:68-71).
  • The narrative outline of Mark’s Gospel from the baptism to the resurrection of Jesus may correspond to a sermon from Peter in Acts 10:36-41, though the speeches of Peter and Paul follow a similar pattern in the book of Acts and there is debate about the extent of Luke’s utilization of sources or authorial creativity. There are also marked similarities and differences between Mark and Paul on subjects such as Christology (doctrine of Christ), soteriology (doctrine of salvation), and eschatology (doctrine about the last things).
  • There is debate over the level of Mark’s comprehension of the geography and customs of Judaea (e.g. Mark 5:1-20; 7:3-4, 31; 11:1) and whether a Jewish missionary from Jerusalem was responsible for this text (cf. Philemon 23; Colossians 4:10; Acts 12:12, 24).


  • An audience is Rome has been supported by the ancient church traditions, the Latinisms in Mark’s Gospel (e.g. the Roman coin “quadrans”), the persecutions which may correspond to what the Christ followers recently suffered under the emperor Nero in Rome, the supposed lack of firsthand acquaintance with the recent events that Palestinian Jews lived through (e.g. the Jewish War) or the geography and culture of the region, and the purported allusions to the imperial victory of the emperor Vespasian.
  • An audience in Syria has been supported by the eastern rural agricultural way of life presupposed in Mark’s Gospel, the audience that may have followed the advice in Mark 13:14 to flee at the onslaught of the Romans’ invasion and desecration of the temple, and the reference to persecution from synagogue authorities and local governors. The imperial allusions and the Latinisms could reflect the impact of Roman imperialism all over the Empire, while Mark’s text does not evince much contact with Christian texts connected with Rome (Romans, 1 Peter, 1 Clement).
  • An audience in Galilee could be supported by all of the arguments for a provenance in Syria, but has the additional support of the preference in Mark’s narrative for the small villages of Galilee over against the capital in Jerusalem and the reference to meeting the risen Jesus in Galilee in Mark 16:7 (a resurrection appearance or the second coming?). Proponents argue that Mark’s comprehension of the geography and customs of Palestine is not lacking, that Greek was commonly used alongside Aramaic, and that there was a mixed association of Jewish and Gentile Christ followers in the region.


  • The earliest manuscript evidence comes from the Chester Beatty papyri (p45) in the 3rd century that contains all four gospels. The recent claims about a fragment of Mark dating to the first-century needs to be subject to critical peer-review and testing (http://www.livescience.com/49489-oldest-known-gospel-mummy-mask.html).
  • Irenaeus has a specific tradition on the evangelist Mark along with the other three evangelists (Against Heresies 3.1.1) and explicitly cites the text of Mark’s Gospel (e.g. 3.10.5; 3.16.3).
  • Justin Martyr cites Mark 3:17 for it alone refers to Zebedee’s sons by the name Boangeres, which is translated by Mark as ‘sons of thunder’ (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 106.3).
  • The Longer Ending of Mark (16:9-20) is written in the first half of the second century by a scribe dissatisfied with the abrupt ending at Mark 16:8, harmonizing it with the resurrection narratives in the Gospels of Luke and John.
  • In the first quarter of the second century, likely around 110 CE, Papias referred to Mark as “Peter’s interpreter” (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15). Papias received his traditions from followers of the Elder John, so this tradition can be traced back to “the elders” at the turn of the century.
  • The order of events in the Gospel of John and the passion narrative in the Gospel of Peter 50-57 may be indebted to Mark’s Gospel.
  • According to the consensus on Markan priority, Matthew and Luke copied Mark’s Gospel and it must have achieved fairly wide circulation to be used by both authors in different locales. The Didache (8:2; 11:3; 15:3, 4) and Ignatius (Smyrn. 1.1; 6.1; Phil. 2.2; Eph. 5.2; 6.1; Rom. 9.3; Trall. 11.1; Poly. 1.2-3; 2.2) knew Matthew, so Mark must be earlier.
  • The Patristic tradition is divided between the view that Mark was written after Peter died (e.g., Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1.; the anti-Marcionite Prologue) or while he was still alive (e.g., Clement of Alexandria, quoted in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 6.14.5-7).
  • The reference in Mark 13:1 to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (cf. 11:12-14, 20-25; 14:57-59, 15:29) may be a vaticinium ex eventu (“prophecy from the event”) or a genuine prediction (e.g. the temple is not set on fire and Mark 13:14 may be interpreted as a future antichrist figure)? Alternatively, Mark 13:14 could be read in reference to the failed plans of emperor Caligula (37-41 CE) to introduce a statue of himself in the temple.
  • Mark 13 may either reflect the Jewish War or repeat apocalyptic tropes (e.g. wars, famines, natural disasters, persecutions)?
  • How much time is needed for oral or written traditions to be translated from Aramaic to Greek and developed into their present written form? What does Mark’s Gospel presuppose about the Torah observance of the Christ followers or the spread of the Gospel to the nations?
  • Does Mark believe that Jesus’s generation will be the last one before the coming of the Son of Man and have most, but not all, of Jesus’s disciples passed away (Mark 9:1; 13:30)?
  • There is no copy of Mark’s Gospel, or any Christian text, found among the caves of Qumran (cf. Daniel Wallace, “7Q5: The Earliest NT Papyrus?“).

Key Themes

  • The reader is informed about Jesus’s messianic identity at the outset (1:1) and his divine sonship is announced by God at Mark 1:11 and 9:7 and (ironically?) by the Roman centurion in 15:36. However, there is a “messianic secret” where the characters in the narrative are either ignorant of Jesus’s identity or silenced when they discover it (e.g. 1:34; 8:30). A closely related theme is when Jesus silences those he heals from spreading the news (e.g. 1:43-45; 5:43).
  • Jesus’s overwhelming power to heal and control nature in the first half of the narrative is juxtaposed with the increasing focus on Jesus’s plans to suffer and die in the second half of the narrative. However, there are hints about Jesus’s death as early as 3:6 and displays of Jesus’s power in the second half of the narrative (e.g. the resurrection and the glorious coming of the Son of Man on the eschatological day of judgment).
  • Jesus models servant-leadership for the power-hungry disciples and exhorts them to take up their crosses and follow him. They are alienated from the temple establishment and, through the path of discipleship and suffering in this age, will be vindicated in the next one.
  • Although Jesus deciphered his parables for the twelve disciples (4:10-20) and commissioned them to minister and heal in his name (6:6-13), they frequently misunderstood Jesus’s message and deserted him in the passion narrative. It is those who may have been regarded as outsiders – a woman suffering from hemorrhages who reached out to touch him, a Syrophoenician woman who had a witty retort for Jesus, an exorcist who was not part of the Twelve, a blind man named Bartimaeus who followed on the way to Jerusalem, a father who barely believed that Jesus could heal his son, a woman who anointed Jesus for burial – that are revealed as true insiders.



Introducing the Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke

Authorship: External Evidence

“Luke, the follower of Paul, set forth in a book the gospel that was preached by him.” (Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies 3.1.1)

“But that this Luke was inseparable from Paul, and his fellow-labourer in the Gospel, he himself clearly evinces, not as a matter of boasting, but as bound to do so by the truth itself. For he says that when Barnabas, and John was called Mark, had parted company from Paul, and sailed to Cyprus, we came to Troas [Acts 16:8]… As Luke was present at all these occurrences, he carefully noted them down in writing, so that he cannot be convicted of falsehood or boastfulness, because all these [particulars] proved both that he was senior to all those who now teach otherwise, and that he was not ignorant of the truth. That he was not merely a follower, but also a fellow-labourer of the apostles, but especially of Paul, Paul has himself declared also in the Epistles, saying: ‘Demas has forsaken me, and is departed unto Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me’ [2 Timothy 4:10-11]” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.14.1)

“The Gospels containing the genealogies, he [Clement] says, were written first” [or] “He [Clement] said that those gospels with genealogies were openly published.” (Clement of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.14.6)

“… and third, Luke, who has composed for those from the Gentiles the gospel praised by Paul.” (Origen of Alexandria, in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 6.25.6)

“The third book of the Gospel is that according to Luke. Luke, the well-known physician, after the ascension of Christ, when Paul had taken with him as one zealous for the law, composed it in his own name, according to [the general] belief. Yet he himself had not seen the Lord in the flesh; and therefore, as he was able to ascertain events, so indeed he begins to tell the story from the birth of John.” (The Muratorian Canon, lines 2-8)

“The holy Luke is an Antiochene, Syrian by race, physician by trade. As his writings indicate, of the Greek speech he was not ignorant. He was a disciple of the apostles, and afterward followed Paul until his confession, serving the Lord undistractedly, for he neither had any wife nor procreated sons. [A man] of eighty–four years, he slept in Thebes, the metropolis of Boeotia, full of the holy spirit…” (the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke’s Gospel)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

The book of Acts is the sequel of the Gospel of Luke: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. (Acts 1:1-2 NRSV)

Explanations for the “we” in Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, 27:1-37, and 28:1-16:

  • The author was a firsthand participant in the narrated events.
  • This was some sort of dramatic literary device that placed the reader in the middle of the action. For instance, see Vernon Robbins’s “By Land and By Sea: the We-Passages and Ancient Sea Voyages.”
  • This was a residue on an earlier source or a travel diary. For instance, see Stanley Porter’s chapter “The We Passages in Acts as a Source regarding Paul” in The Paul of Acts.
  • The “we” was a “pseudonymous” or a fictional claim to be by a firsthand participant of Paul’s missionary activities. For instance, see Bart Ehrman’s Forgery and Counter-Forgery.

Audience: Theophilus and other readers

  • The Gospel may have been dedicated to a wealthy patron who sponsored the writer’s literary project.
  • The name “Theophilus” may be symbolic for the church as it means “lover of God.”
  • There is debate over the provenance of the author and the readers, with some major suggestions including Antioch, Ephesus, or Rome.


  • Dates range from the early 60s to 130 CE. Most scholars date it between 75-100 CE, though a minority date it on the earlier (cf. Colin J. Hemer) or later (cf. Richard Pervo, Joseph B. Tyson) end of the spectrum.
  • Luke 19:41-44 and 21:20 may reflect knowledge of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.
  • Acts ends before narrating the deaths of Peter, Paul, and James, perhaps to conclude on the note that the Gospel has spread from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 1:8; 28:30-31).
  • There are similarities and differences between the portrayal of Paul’s biography, travels, and theology in Acts with Paul’s own letters. There is debate over whether or not the author had access to a collection of Pauline Epistles.
  • There are similarities and differences between the book of Acts and Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities published around 93-94 CE. Compare Acts 5:36-37 with Antiquities 20.97-102, Luke 2:1-3 with Antiquities 18.1-5 (cf. War 2.117-18), or Acts 12:20-23 with Antiquities 19.343-50. There is debate over whether Acts is literarily dependent or independent of Josephus’s Antiquities.
  • Acts seems to portray the church as primarily drawn from the ranks of Jewish members of the synagogue and Gentile “God-fearers.” However, it may be aware that the “Christians” (cf. Acts 11:26; 26:28) have come to be recognized as a distinct community governed by “elders” (presbyteroi) and “overseers” (episkopoi) (cf. Acts 20:17-38).

Key Themes

  • Unique sayings, parables, and stories focus on economic and social inequality (e.g. the shepherds in the infancy narrative, Mary’s Magnificat, the Lukan form of the beatitudes and woes, the wealthy female patrons of Jesus, the sisters Mary and Martha, the good Samaritan, the rich fool, the woman with the lost coin, the unjust steward, the rich man and Lazarus).
  • Jesus’s ministry extended to the non-Jews outside the boundaries of Israel. Compare the incident in the Nazarene synagogue in Mark 6:1-6 and Matthew 13:54-58 where the local residents could not believe that the boy they saw growing up was now a prophet with the parallel account in Luke 4:16-30 where the crowd takes offense at Jesus’s remarks about how the prophets Elijah and Elisha healed foreigners.
  • The martyrdom of Jesus is modeled on the themes of the noble death and the Deuteronomistic theme of the rejection of the prophets culminating in the death of Jesus. Although Luke seems to have removed Mark’s ransom saying (compare Luke 22:25-27 with Mark 10:45), he has Paul articulate Jesus’ vicarious death in Acts 20:28.
  • The impending eschatological return of Jesus has been delayed (Luke 21:24; Acts 1:6-8). Hans Conzelmann famously argued that Luke-Acts divided history into the epochs of Israel, Jesus, and the church.
  • The character of Peter has been rehabilitated (see Luke 22:31-34) and he emerges as the chief spokesperson of the Twelve (sometimes alongside John) in the first twelve chapters of Acts. The church is to be governed by twelve apostles (cf. see the replacement of Judas by Matthias to restore the number “twelve” in Acts 1:15-26) and the other missionaries like Paul and Barnabas are generally subservient to rather than identified as “apostles” or “sent ones” (exception: Acts 14:4).
  • The church is completely united, glossing over occasional cracks that appear beneath the surface such as the division between the Hebrews and the Hellenists (Acts 6:1-15), the debate at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15; cf. 21:17-25), and the split of Paul from Barnabas (15:36-41).
  • The Christians are in continuity with the scriptural heritage of Israel. The Jerusalem church wins over thousands of their Jewish compatriots and the apostles as well as Paul exemplify their Jewish piety. Paul’s primary audience is found within the Jewish and Gentile members of the synagogue (compare Paul’s target audience in Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-9 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). However, Acts hints that the Christian missionaries were having much more success in convincing non-Jews of their gospel about Jesus the Messiah (Acts 13:46-47; 18:6; 28:25-28), though the book concludes on an open-ended not (28:30-31).




Introducing the Gospel of John

The Gospel of John

Authorship: Internal Evidence

The passages on the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 1:35-40 [?], 13:23-25; 18:15-16 [?], 19:25-27, 19:35 [?], 20:2-10, 21:1-7, 20-24). The most popular suggestions for the beloved disciple are the Apostle John, the Elder John, Lazarus, John Mark, an anonymous Judaean disciple, or a literary fiction (the most extensive list is in James Charlesworth’s The Beloved Disciple: Whose Witness Validates the Gospel of John?). Here are the Pros and Cons of identifying the beloved disciple as the Apostle John:

  • John is never named in the Fourth Gospel, but none of the scenes that feature him in the Synoptic Gospels occur in the Fourth Gospel (see Mark 1:19-20, 29-32; 5:37-42; 9:2-10; 10:35-40; 13:3; 14:33-34). The one exception is the parallel between John 21:1-14 and Luke 5:1-11.
  • John could be the anonymous disciple who was called alongside Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, in John 1:35-42. However, the scene in John where Jesus recruits two of his followers from the movement of John the Baptizer completely differs from the calling of the two sets of brothers (Peter and Andrew, James and John) from their fishing occupations in Mark 1:16-20.
  • The Twelve were at the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels, but the Fourth Gospel never restricts this event to the Twelve who are rarely mentioned in the text (cf. John 6:67, 70; 20:24) and a local Judaean follower could have hosted the meal.
  • In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is especially close to three disciples (Peter, James, John) and James is executed by Herod Agrippa I around 40 CE. John is also paired with Peter in the book of Acts. But the fourth Gospel never mentions this trio as an inner circle of disciples.
  • The beloved disciple almost exclusively shows up in Jerusalem with the exception of John 21:7, 20-24 (and possibly 1:35-40) and John 19:25-27 may imply that he had a residence in or near the environs of Jerusalem.
  • If the “other disciple” in John 18:15-16 is the beloved disciple, he seems to have been a prominent individual closely connected to the high priest.
  • The beloved disciple has to be among the group of seven disciples in John 21:2, but it may be more likely that the beloved disciple is among the two anonymous disciples than the named “sons of Zebedee.”

 Authorship: External Evidence

  • “But I will not hesitate to supplement at any time for you too the interpretations with whatever I learned thoroughly and remembered thoroughly from the presbyters [or “elders”], since I am confident in the truth on their account. For unlike many I was not delighted with those who say many things but with those who teach the truth, or with those who remember not the commandments of others but those given by the Lord to the faith and derived from truth itself. But whenever someone who had followed the presbyters came along, I would carefully ask about the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or what Peter had said or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord, and which Aristion and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord say too. For I did not assume that whatever comes from books is as helpful to me as what comes from a living and lasting voice.” (Papias, in Ecclesiastical History 3.39.3-4).
  • “Then John, the disciple of the Lord and also the one who leaned against his chest, also pub­lished the gospel when re­siding in Ephesus of Asia” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1).
  • “…but John, last, aware that the physical facts were disclosed in the gospels, urged by friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual gospel” (Clement of Alexandria, in Ecclesiastical History 6.14.7).
  • “The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples. To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him [to write], he said, ‘Fast with me from today to three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us tell it to one another.’ In the same night it was revealed to Andrew, [one] of the apostles, that John should write down all things in his own name while all of them should review it” (Muratorian Canon, Lines 9-16).


  • The Rylands Library Papyrus 52 is a fragment of a few verses from John 18:31-33, 37-38 and is commonly dated in the first half of the second century.
  • Early Patristic references or allusions to the Gospel of John or 1 John (e.g. Papias of Hierapolis, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyna, Justin Martyr).
  • The Johannine epistles may be an orthodox commentary on the Gospel, especially against schismatic secessionists who denied the incarnation or at least saving significance of Jesus “in the flesh.”
  • There is debate about whether the Gospel of John exhibits literary dependence on one or more of the Synoptic Gospels. There is also debate about what sources were utilized by the Gospel of John (e.g. a hymn to the Logos or “Word,” a signs source, a discourse source, a passion narrative).
  • There is debate about how long it would have taken for the evangelist to develop the high Christology in the Fourth Gospel (1:1-3; 5:17-18; 8:58; 20:28).
  • There is debate about whether the generalized polemic against hoi Ioudaioi (“the Jews” or “the Judaeans”), along with the references to the expulsions of Jesus’s followers from the synagogue (9:22; 12:42; 16:2), reflects a contemporary schism between the Johannine community with their local synagogue. Older scholarship correlated this with the alleged formulation of a liturgical malediction against “heretics” at the council of Yavneh in the late first century called the birkat ha-minim (cf. B. Berakhot 28b-29a).
  • There is debate about how many editorial revisions went into the composition of John’s Gospel. The final form of the book with the epilogue in chapter 21 was clearly written after Peter died as a martyr (by crucifixion?) and probably after the beloved disciple died (cf. John 21:20-25).


  • Ephesus: supported by the external church tradition about Saint John in Ephesus (cf. Irenaeus, Polycrates, the Acts of John), the positive reception of Johannine literature in Asia Minor (cf. Papias, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Polycrates), the affinities with the book of Revelation (e.g. Christological titles such as Word of God or Lamb), and the cultural milieu where Jews, Christians, and other socio-religious formations interacted.
  • Alexandria: supported by the manuscript evidence from Egypt, the positive reception of John’s Gospel among proto-Orthodox and Valentinian Christians in Alexandria, the affinities with the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (e.g. the Logos), and the interest in a spiritualizing or allegorizing hermeneutic.
  • Syria: supported by the affinities with the Syriac Odes of Solomon and with Ignatius of Antioch (e.g. high Christology, opposition to “Docetism”). The close proximity to Palestine may also explain John’s accurate topographical and cultural knowledge of the region.

Key Themes

  • High Christology:
    • Jesus is the pre-existent “Word” (logos) who was both God and was God, who created all things, and who became incarnate in the flesh (sarx) (1:1-18)
    • The “I Am” speeches: the Bread of Life (6:35, 48); the Light of the World (8:12; 9:15); the “I Am” (8:58; cf. Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10); the Door of the Gate (10:7); the Good Shepherd (10:11); the Resurrection and the Life (11:25); the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6); the Vine (15:1).
    • Balancing the theme of Jesus’s oneness with the Father (5:17-18; 10:27-28; 17:11, 21-23) with the theme of his subordination (14:28)
    • There was a schism in the first epistle of John over whether Jesus had come in the flesh (1 John 2:22-23; 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7).
  • There is a sharp dualism between light and darkness, between the followers of Jesus who have been called out of the “world” (kosmos) and the world that is hostile towards them. Although Jesus and his disciples were Jewish (cf. John 4:9, 22), the Gospel represents hoi Ioudaioi (“the Jews”, “the Jewish leaders”, “the Judeans”) of persecuting the followers of Jesus to the point that they were “expelled” (aposynagōgos) from the synagogues (John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2).
  • The fellowship of believers is to be completely united and “one,” just as Jesus was one with the Father, and are to follow the great commandment to love one another as Jesus had loved them (John 13:34-35; 17:20-23).
  • Jesus’ death is represented as his exaltation or the “lifting up” of the Son of Man (John 3:14-15; 8:28; 12:32).
  • The preferred expression is “eternal life” rather than “kingdom of God” and this was available in the present through trusting that Jesus was sent by God, though there would be a future judgment and resurrection (e.g. 5:25-29; 6:39-58).


Randal Rauser and Justin Schieber on the Existence of God

At the church I attend, my fellow congregant Randal Rauser had a dialogue with Justin Schieber based on their book An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar: Talking about God, the Universe, and Everything. I much prefer dialogues to debates as the argumentative posturing in the latter often does not lead to productive conversations where both sides genuinely listen to each other and I think that people have a range of intellectual, social, psychological, and experiential reasons for adopting the worldviews and communities that they do. The best apologetic for Christ may be in whether you act in a Christ-like manner towards your fellow human beings. However, I found this dialogue to be refreshing and both speakers to be articulate spokespersons for their respective positions. Randal blogs at The Tentative Apologist while Justin hosts the podcast Real Atheology.

The Genre of the Gospels

This is a handout for an undergraduate Gospels course

What is a “Gospel”?

  • εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion): “good” (eu) and “message, tidings, proclamation” (angelia)
  • The singular neuter noun is extremely rare in both Greco-Roman and Jewish writings before the Christian era. For instance, there is only a single instance of the plural form of the neuter noun in 2 Samuel 4:10. For further statistics, see Steve Mason, “Methods and Categories: Judaism and Gospel.”
  • The verb euangelizomai or “to bring good tidings” is present in the Greek translation of Isaiah in the Septuagint: “…as a season of beauty upon the mountains, as the feet of one preaching glad tidings of peace, as one preaching good news for I will publish thy salvation, saying, O Sion, thy God shall reign” (Isaiah 52:7 LXX).
  • The plural form euangelia is inscribed on the Priene Calendar Inscription: “It seemed good to the Greeks of Asia, in the opinion of the high priest Apollonius of Menophilus Azanitus: ‘Since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings for the world that came by reason of him,’ which Asia resolved in Smyrna.” (See Craig Evans, “Mark’s Incipit and the Priene Calendar Inscription: From Jewish Gospel to Greco-Roman Gospel“).
  • The good news of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15) or the royal proclamation of the crucified and risen Lord (Romans 1:3-4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

What Does the Term “Genre” Mean?

  • If a a text opened with the address “Dear Mary” and closed with “Sincerely, Tim”, what is the likely genre of this piece of writing? If a text began with the words “once upon a time in a far way land” and had fantastic characters or themes in the story-line, what is the likely genre of this piece of writing?
  • Richard Burridge explains that speaking or writing happen in a system of conventions (i.e. traits, rules, customs, necessities, properties that constitute verbal meaning) and, therefore, a genre is like a contract between the author and the reader based on their shared expectations about what traits make up an utterance (What are the Gospels: A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography, 34-36, 43-44).
  • The differences between “prescriptivism” (i.e. a genre must be characterized by x, y, and z), “nominalism” (i.e. a generic classification has no effect on the properties of a text or “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”), and “family resemblance” (i.e. there are a number of overlapping traits that generally characterize the texts in a given category while each individual text may not have every single expected trait). For further discussion, see Burridge, Graeco-Roman Biography,” 39, 42-44.

What is the Genre of the New Testament Gospels?

  • Did the Gospels evolve out of the missionary “proclamation” (kērygma) of the crucified and risen Christ, eventually incorporating other materials (sayings collections, miracle stories, ritual texts about baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and were thus a uniquely Christian genre?
  • The Gospel as an aretalogy of a miracle worker?
  • The Gospel as an apocalyptic text (e.g. the book of Daniel) envisioning the eschatological consummation of history?
  • The Gospel as equivalent to an ancient Graeco-Roman or Jewish novel (e.g. Tobit, Joseph and Aseneth) or a literary epic (e.g. the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid) intended for popular consumption?
  • The Gospel as an ancient “biography” (bios or life) of a principal subject?
  • The Gospel as a shorter historical monograph about the climax of the history of Israel in the advent of Jesus the Messiah? Does the two-volume work of Luke-Acts belong to the genre of historiography?

The Gospels are not like Modern Biographies

  • Graeco-Roman historiographers and biographers preferred to name themselves and their sources, but the Gospels are more like the history books of the Hebrew Bible and other Ancient Near Eastern historians in remaining anonymous and keeping the spotlight on the subject (but cf. Luke 1:1-4; John 21:24). See Armin D. Baum, “The Anonymity of the New Testament History Books: A Stylistic Device in the Context of Greco-Roman and Ancient Near Eastern Literature,” NTS 50 (2008): 120-142.
  • They are not interested in Jesus’ upbringing, education, or motivations. Only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have infancy narratives (Matt 1-2; Luke 1:5-2:41) and Luke has one story about Jesus when he was 12 years old (Luke 2:42-52).
  • There are round or flat characters, but the characterization remains static.
  • The basic unit in the Synoptic Gospel is the chreia or “anecdote” that has sayings or deeds of Jesus in a condensed form and has an edificatory purpose. These anecdotes may be arranged topically or in a loose chronological order (e.g. “on the Sabbath day”), while the Passion Narrative about the events in Jerusalem leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection is a more interconnected narrative. The Gospel of John is made up of longer discourses, “signs” that Jesus performed, and a Passion Narrative. It has a more structured literary outline organized around the Jewish feast days.
  • The purposes of a Gospel was to proclaim the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus, to encourage readers to the path of discipleship based on Jesus’ teachings or self-sacrificial example, and correct what the evangelists saw as deficient Christologies.

The “Apocryphal” (“Hidden”) Gospels

  • The Gospel according to the Hebrews, the Gospels according to the Ebionites, the Gospel according to the Nazoraeans, the Gospel of the Egyptians, Papyrus Egerton 2 Unknown Gospel, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of the Saviour, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of James, the Epistle of the Apostles, the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, the Secret Gospel of Mark (see Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it into the New Testament [Oxford University Press, 2003], v).
  • These diverse writings include sayings collections (e.g. the Gospel of Thomas), discourses of the Risen Jesus (e.g. the Gospel of Philip or the Gospel of Mary), infancy Gospels (e.g. the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Protoevangelium of James), narrative Gospels in the same genre as the canonical Gospels (e.g. the Gospel of Peter), and Gospel harmonies (e.g. the Gospel of the Ebionites, the Diatessaron).