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The Ethics of Jesus

The reception of the Sermon on the Mount for two millennia

  • Warren S. Kissinger, The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bibliography (Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1975); Jeffery P. Greenman, Timothy Larsen, and Stephen R. Spencer, eds, The Sermon on the Mount through the Centuries (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2007).
  • A demand for ethical perfectionism?
  • A call to the social gospel?
  • Advanced discipleship in Christian monasticism?
  • An impossible standard that necessitates grace?
  • The “two kingdoms” doctrine and living under secular and divine authority?
  • An interim ethic before the eschatological consummation of history?

On the setting of Jesus’s great sermon

  • Did both Matthew and Luke draw on Mark 3:7-19 to contextualize Jesus’ sermon, or should Matthew’s sermon be located earlier in Mark’s narrative in the context of 1:21-22 or 1:39?
  • Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses interpreting Torah in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5:1), while Luke has Jesus descend the mountain to preach to the masses on a “level place” in the “Sermon on the Plains” (Luke 6:12-20).

On the beatitudes

  • Did Jesus promise future eschatological blessings (i.e. a great social reversal in the coming kingdom) or a present state of blessedness (i.e. the objects of God’s concern or members of the Jesus community)?
  • The beatitudes in Luke 6:20-23, accompanied by the Lukan woes in 6:24-26, focus on the impoverished and marginalized.
  • The beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-11 focus on character: poor in spirit, mourning, meek (cf. Psalm 37:11), hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted for righteousness.

On the salt of the earth

  • Matthew 5:13 and Luke 14:34-35
  • A seasoning agent (improves the quality)?
  • A preservative (connotes endurance)?
  • A fertilizer (benefits the world around them)?
  • Other metaphorical connotations (e.g. purity, sacrifice, wisdom, speech)

On the light of the world

  • Matthew 5:14-16 and Luke 8:16-17 (cf. Mark 4:21-22); 11:33
  • A general metaphor that could be applied to the righteous, an allusion to the vocation of Israel (see Isaiah 49:6), or sharing in the vocation of Jesus the Messiah (see Matthew 4:14-16 citing Isaiah 9:1-2)
  • A lamp on its stand and a city on a hill demands that our practical discipleship is visible for all to observe. Is the metaphor referring to any city or to the holy city of Jerusalem?

On the Law and the Prophets

  • Matthew 5:17-20 and Luke 16:16-17 (cf. Matthew 11:12-13)
  • How do we reconcile statements about the duration of the law and prophets with how it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than the slightest dot of the law to be altered? What does the saying on the kingdom of God/heaven and violence mean: the kingdom forcefully advances against the darkness, people aggressively enter the kingdom, or the agents of the kingdom are violently persecuted?
  • Christological fulfillment: the law and prophets had a prophetic function in foretelling Jesus’s advent.
  • Ethical fulfillment: Jesus’s words and deeds embody the ethical requirements of the law and the prophets.

On the Matthean Antitheses

  • “You have heard it said… but I say to you” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44). Luke lacks this framework.
  • Luke omits the discourses on murder (Matthew 5:21-24), adultery (Matthew 5:27-30), oaths (Matthew 5:33-37), almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-4), vain prayers (Matthew 6:5-8), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-17).
  • Luke retains the words about enemy love and non-retaliation (6:27-36), the Lord’s prayer (11:1-4), about going to court (12:57-59), and about divorce (16:18). Note the sayings are re-contextualized: the Lord’s prayer occurs in a section on prayer, the divorce prohibition exemplifies Jesus’s fidelity to the Torah, and the advice about going to court refers to divine judgment rather than interpersonal conflict.
  • Does Jesus’s authority supersede the Torah, get to the heart of the Torah, or “put a fence around” the Torah? For instance, one will not break the laws against murder or adultery if one avoids unrighteous anger or lust.
  • Jesus’s critique of hypocritical piety that is motivated by the desire to impress people rather than out of devotion to God (e.g. praying, almsgiving, and fasting in secret).

On the Prohibition of Divorce

  • Mark 10:1-12 (cf. Matthew 19:1-12) and Matthew 5:31-32/Luke 16:18.
  • The law about divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (cf. Leviticus 21:7, 14; 22:13; Numbers 30:9; Deuteronomy 22:19, 29; Malachi 2:14-16) and the rabbinic debate between the schools of Hillel and Shammai over whether to interpret ‘ervat davar (“indecency of a matter”) liberally as indecency in any matter or strictly as unchastity (cf. Mishnah Gittin 9.10).
  • The creational intent of the union of the man (ish) and woman (ishah) (Genesis 2:24) and the biblical ideal of the indissoluble marriage covenant (Malachi 2:14-16). Does Jesus protect the vulnerable female partner from becoming destitute when she is divorced and removed from the protections of the patriarchal family unit?
  • Note that Matthew grants an exception for sexual immorality (porneia) and affirms singleness or “eunuchs” for the kingdom of heaven.
  • Note Paul’s discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:1-17 in which he offers his encouragement to singleness, reports the Lord’s command about divorce, and applies the command to a new context regarding marriage between a Christ-believer and a non-believing spouse.

On enemy Love and non-retaliation

  • Matthew 5:38-42, 43-48 and Luke 6:27-28, 29-30, 32-36 (cf. Romans 12:14-21 and the citation of Proverbs 25:21-22).
  • Political quietism or non-violent resistance (e.g. standing up to an insulting backhanded slap, shaming those who steal your undergarment by handing them your outer-garment and going naked, carrying the Roman soldier’s equipment beyond the mandatory one mile limit)?
  • Imitating divine perfection or mercy?

On the Lord’s Prayer

On treasures in heaven

  • Matthew 6:19-21 follows the point about the heavenly reward for pious acts done in secret. Heavenly treasures, unlike their earthly counterparts, neither rust nor are stolen and we should set our hearts on them.
  • Luke 12:33b-34 follows the words about anxiety over earthly cares (12:22-31; cf. Matthew 6:25-34) and an instruction about alms (12:33)

On the evil eye

  • Matthew 6:22-23, Luke 11:34-36, Mark 7:22, and Galatians 3:1
  • See John H. Elliott’s (modified) article “The Evil Eye” in The Ancient Mediterranean Social World: A Sourcebook (ed. Zeba Crook; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016).
  • Matthew 6:22-23 notes the “evil eye” in the discourse about treasures and wealth, so it pertains to greed and envy.
  • Luke 11:34-36 links the metaphors of a lamp on its stand and the eyes as the lamp of the body, contrasting those in the light or the darkness.

On choosing between God and Mammon

  • The statement about picking one master, God or wealth (Aramaic māmōnā, Greek mamōnas, Latin mammona), in Matthew 6:24 continues the theme against being devoted to earthly treasures and filled with envy.
  • Luke 16:14 follows an example of the shrewd use of worldly wealth and precedes an indictment of the Pharisees’ greed.

On worrying

  • Matthew 6:25-34 concludes the theme about wealth with the futility about worrying about the days of our life, food, and possessions.
  • Luke 12:22-31 follows the unique parable of a rich fool whose possessions were no good to him at the end of his life (12:13-21) and is concluded by the saying about treasures in heaven (12:33-34).
  • Creation theology: God’s providential care for birds and lillies (contrasted with the extravagance of king Solomon).
  • The priority of the kingdom (“and righteousness” in Matthew)

On not judging

  • Matthew 7:1-5 begins a new section with the admonition of not judging and the hypocrisy of removing a speck from another’s eye while having a log in one’s own. Note the instructions in 18:15-20 for judging within the Christ assemblies, followed by a parable about forgiveness (18:21-35).
  • Luke 6:37-42 follows the saying on imitating God’s mercy and expands on the saying about judging with the images of blind guides (Matthew 15:14) and disciples resembling their teacher (Matthew 10:24-25).

On pearls before swine

  • The saying in Matthew 7:6 is not included in Luke’s Gospel
  • Since dogs were seen as scavengers and pigs as unclean, the imagery of profaning holy or precious items may caution against sharing Jesus’s teachings with outsiders (Gentiles, oppressors, evil people, apostates?).

On asking, seeking, and knocking

  • Matthew 7:7-11 promises that the heavenly Father responds to the one who asks, seeks, and knocks on the basis that even earthly fathers know to give good gifts to their children.
  • Luke 11:9-13 concludes the prayer section (11:1-8). Luke 11:13 highlights the gift of the Holy Spirit, reflecting the writer’s theological interests.

On the Golden Rule

On the wide and narrow gates

  • Two Ways (Deuteronomy 30:15-19; Jeremiah 21:18; Sirach 33:14-15; Community Rule [1QS] 3.18-4.26; Testament of Abraham 11; Testament of Asher 1.3-9; Didache 1.1-6.2; Barnabas 18.1-21.9; 2 Enoch 30:14-15).
  • Matthew 7:13-14 is a reminder that few enter the narrow gate onto the hard way of radical discipleship demanded in the Sermon on the Mount.
  • In answer to the query about how many will be saved at the last judgement, Luke 13:24-25 speaks of a “narrow door” that will be shut by a householder, preventing many from entering.

On the fruit produced by a good or bad tree

  • Matthew 7:15-20 is preceded by a unique saying about false prophets as wolves in sheep’s clothing, so the test of a prophet is his or her works.
  • Luke 6:43-45 uses the image of the tree and its fruit about good or bad individuals more generally and concludes with a saying that appears in the context of Jesus’s controversy with the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34-35.

On doing the Lord’s will

  • Matthew 7:21-23 warns about fraudulent teachers, prophets, or miracle workers who express a superficial knowledge of the “Lord” (Jesus) but have no allegiance to him as shown by their failure to do the will of the heavenly Father.
  • Luke 6:43-49 has a similar order to Matthew (good and bad trees, doing the Lord’s will, and the house on a firm foundation). Luke repeats the image of the Lord casting out hearers whom he never knew in 13:25-27, replacing them with others from the east and west (cf. Matthew 8:11 in the context of healing a centurion’s servant).

On building on a firm foundation

  • The concluding parable of the sermon in both Matthew 7:24-27 and Luke 6:47-49.

The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus

Arguments for a pre-Markan Passion Narrative:

  1. There were eyewitnesses including Simon of Cyrene, whose sons were known to Mark’s readers (Mark 15:21), and the named women who went to anoint Jesus’s corpse when they found the tomb empty.
  2. Since Jesus was remembered as a great sage, miracle-working prophet, and messianic deliverer, it may have been a necessity to rationalize why God allowed Jesus to undergo such an ignoble death.
  3. Social memories were intertwined with scriptural reflections on the meaning of Jesus’s death at the outset. His suffering was interpreted through the lens of the laments (e.g., Psalm 22), the experiences of the prophets (e.g., Jeremiah) or king David (e.g., 2 Samuel 15-17), the servant songs in Deutero-Isaiah (e.g., Isaiah 53), the human-like figure who is oppressed yet vindicated over the beasts (Daniel 7), the trials of Wisdom’s child (Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20), and the Maccabean martyrs (2 Maccabees 7). They may have also drawn on Graeco-Roman models of noble death (e.g., Socrates) or vicarious sacrifice (e.g., Alcestis).
  4. Paul independently attests to Jesus’s voluntary self-sacrifice, words at his last supper, crucifixion as a messianic pretender by the Roman imperial authorities with collusion from some of the religious establishment, burial, and resurrection (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; 1 Corinthians 2:6-8; 11:23-25; 15:1-3; Romans 1:3-4; Philippians 2:8).
  5. Mark links episodes together in a loose chronological framework (e.g., non-specific temporal references and locations), but includes an interconnected Passion narrative where one event necessarily following what precedes it and with clear indications of time.
  6. The similarities and differences between the Gospels of John and Mark may show that both drew on a common Passion source. The same inference could be made about the similarities and differences with the Gospel of Peter.

Arguments against a pre-Markan Passion Narrative:

  1. The evangelist Mark may have freely composed the narrative based on the scriptural and Graeco-Roman precedents above.
  2. The Passion Narrative conforms to larger themes in Mark’s Gospel (e.g., the messianic secret disclosed, the dramatic irony of Jesus’s enemies announcing his true identity, the display of power in weakness).
  3. Some traditions like the ritual supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-25; Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:17-30; Luke 22:16-20; Didache 9:1-3) may have circulated independently rather than in an integrated Passion Narrative.
  4. Mark was possibly influenced (directly or indirectly) by Paul’s earlier theological reflections on the meaning of the cross.
  5. The Gospels of John and Peter possibly depended on and revised Mark’s text, which might mean they were not independent witnesses to a pre-Markan Passion source.

The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

  • See Mark 11:1-10; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19.
  • Did Jesus exhibit supernatural foreknowledge or make pre-arrangements before entering Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-6; cf. 14:13-16)?
  • While the crowds were excited about the re-establishment of the Davidic monarchy in Mark 11:10, there are explicit citations of the scriptural proof-text (Matthew 21:4-5; John 12:15) and identifications of Jesus as king (Luke 19:38; John 12:13, 15-16) or son of David (Matthew 21:9). Note that Matthew 21:7 has a donkey and a colt based on Zechariah 9:9.
  • Luke 19:41-45 viewed the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE is viewed as a divine judgment.
  • John ties the popular reception of Jesus by the crowds as due to the previous miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus (John 12:17)

The “Cleansing of the Temple”

  • Compare Mark 11:15-19 (sandwiched between the cursing of the fig tree), Matthew 21:12-17, Luke 19:45-48, and John 2:13-16. Note that John places it at the start of Jesus’s ministry. Note also the recurring accusation that Jesus threatened to destroy the temple in Mark (13:1-2; 14:57-59; 29)
  • Did Jesus oppose the sale of sacrificial animals and exchange of currency on sacred grounds? Did he resist the exclusion of non-Jews and the fomenting of revolutionary zeal in the “court of the Gentiles?” Did he protest the economic exploitation of impoverished worshipers? Did he expect the temple to be destroyed and replaced by an eschatological temple (i.e. a literal building or the eschatological community)?

‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’ (Mark 11:17)

Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” (Mark 14:57-59, cf. Mark 15:29)

See, your house is left to you, desolate. (Matthew 23:38/Luke 13:35)

‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’… Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’… But he was speaking of the temple of his body. (John 2:16, 19, 21)

“I will destroy [this] house, and no one will be able to build it […].” (Thomas, logion 71)

“They set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man [Stephen] never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.’… [Stephen said] ‘Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands'” (Acts 6:14-15; 7:48)

“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship [temple cult], and the promises” (Romans 9:4)

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16)

“…for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, cf. Mark 13:14)

The Lord’s Supper

  • A woman pours costly ointment over Jesus’s head when he was in Bethany two days before the Passover, which he interpreted as anointing him for burial (Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13). In John’s account, this episode occurs six days before the Passover and she anoints Jesus’s feet with the costly ointment and wipes his feet with her hair (John 12:1-8), much like the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50.
  • Was the Last Supper a Passover meal: compare Mark 14:12-25 and John 13:1; 19:31. See also Jesus as the Paschal Lamb in John 1:29, 35; 19:31-37; 1 Corinthians 5:7.
  • Compare the Passover meal in the Synoptics to the cultic meal that was repeated in commemoration of the Lord’s sacrifice in Corinth?

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’  (Mark 14:22-25; cf. Matthew 26:17-30)

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’  Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.  (Luke 22:16-20, the bolded words are attested in the huge majority of manuscripts but omitted in some Western witnesses like Codex Bezae. This is one example of the shorter readings that some label as “Western non-interpolations.”)

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

And concerning the Eucharist, hold Eucharist thus: First concerning the Cup, “We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy child, which, thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy child; to thee be glory for ever.” And concerning the broken Bread: “We give thee thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy Child. To thee be glory for ever. (Didache 9:1-3)

The Death of Jesus

  • The prayer to remove the cup in Mark 14:36, Matthew 26:39, 42, Luke
  • The fulfillment of Jesus’s predictions about Peter’s denials (cf. Mark 14:29-31, 54, 66-72; Matthew 26:33-35, 58, 69-75; Luke 22:31-34, 54-62; John 13:36-38; 18:15-18, 15-27).
  • The fulfillment of Jesus’s predictions about Judas’s betrayals (Mark 14:10-11, 18-21, 43-45; Matthew 26:14-16, 21-25, 47-50; Luke 22:3-6, 21-23, 47-48; John 6:70-71; 13:21-30; 18:12-13). The death of Judas is narrated in Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-19.
  • Compare the questions put to Jesus by the Jewish Sanhedrin and his responses in Mark 14:53, 55-65; Matthew 28:57, 59-68, and Luke 22:42 (cf. Isaiah 51:17, 22; Jeremiah 25:15; Ezekiel 23:31-33; Mark 10:38; Matthew 20:22). John does not narrate Jesus’s struggle in the garden of Gethsemane (but not John 12:27-28).
  • Compare the account of Jesus’ arrest in Mark 14:43-52, Matthew 26:47-56, Luke 22:47-53, and John 18:2-12.
  • The Twelve flee out of cowardice and Mark seems to heighten the shame by narrating the story of the youth who runs away naked (Mark 14:51-52), but John recounts how one of the male disciples remained loyal to Jesus to the cross (18:15-16; 19:26-27, 35).
  • Was Pilate exonerated or presented as a powerless, inept governor? Note the custom of releasing a prisoner and the choice of the rebel Barabbas (“son of a father”), the dream of Pilate’s wife and his act of washing his hands (Matthew 27:19, 24-25), the shifting of responsibility over to the Tetrarch Herod (Luke 23:6-12), and the philosophical conversation between Jesus and Pilate (John 18:33-38; 19:9-11).
  • Compare the narratives of the crucifixion in Mark 15:15-41, Matthew 27:26-56, Luke 23:24-49, and John 19:16-37.
    • Note the scriptural proof-texts interwoven into the accounts (e.g. compare the accounts with Psalm 23).
    • How do the dying words of Jesus fit his characterization in each Gospel (e.g., exemplifying Jesus’s power in weakness or presenting him in full control of his fate)?
    • Note the spear thrust into Jesus and the blood and water that pours out of Jesus’s side in John 19:34-37. Was this detail included to offer medical proof that Jesus had expired, to challenge “docetist” ideas that denied Jesus’s full humanity and vicarious sacrifice, to testify that Jesus was the fountain of life (cf. John 7:37-39), or to legitimate the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.
    • The tearing of the curtain in the temple: the curtain separating the divine presence in the Holy of Holies (cf. Hebrews 6:19-20; 10:19-20), the curtain separating the sanctuary from the outer courts of the Gentiles, or a picture of God rending His garments in mourning for the Son (cf. Amos 8:9-10).
    • When the Roman centurion exclaims that Jesus was a/the Son of God, was he making a full Christian confession, was he presenting Jesus as a son of a deity in line when Roman polytheistic views or as equivalent to a Roman emperor like Octavian Augustus (i.e. the adopted son of the deified Julius Caesar and “a son of god”), or was this another ironically true statement that had been made to mock Jesus (cf. Mark 15:29-32)?

The Burial and Resurrection of Jesus

  • The burial of Jesus in Mark 15:42-47, Matthew 27:57-61, Luke 23:50-56, and John 19:38-41. Compare how Joseph of Arimathea is characterized and the description of Jesus’s burial in each Gospel. Note that Matthew reports the guards at the tomb to refute the false rumour that the disciples stole the body (27:62-66; 28:11-150).
  • After the women find the tomb empty and are instructed by a “youth” to tell the disciples that the risen Lord awaits them in Galilee, Mark 16:8 ends on the note that they were afraid and said “nothing to anyone.”
    • Did the evangelist leave the Gospel unfinished, was the original ending lost in the scribal transmission of the Gospel, or was the open-ending a literary device to encourage the reader to not be silent and proclaim the good news?
    • Did the women disobey the command to report back to the disciples or does the Greek means that the women told no one else besides the disciples to whom they were directed to tell (cf. Mark 1:44)?
    • In Matthew 28:9-10, the women rush out with joy to tell the disciples before Jesus meets them on route.
    • In Luke 24:9-12, the disciples ignorantly dismiss the womens’ report as an idle tale, except for Peter who inspects the tomb and is perplexed (but cf. Luke 24:34).
    • A scribe attached the longer ending after Mark 16:8 (16:9-20), including details found in the Gospels of Luke and John. It repeats Jesus’s appearances to Mary Magdalene (cf. John 20:11-18), noting that she formerly was the recipient of an exorcism (cf. Luke 8:2), and to a couple of travelers walking into the country (cf. Luk3 24:13-34) and to the “eleven” (cf. Luke 24:9).
  • A similar core and minor variations in detail:
    • Women go to anoint the body, but at what time of day (Mark 16:2; Matthew 28:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1)?
    • How many women were at the tomb and what were their names (Matthew 28:1; Mark 15:47-16:1; Luke 23:55-24:1; John 20:1-2)
    • How many heavenly beings or figures dressed in heavenly apparel were present at the empty tomb (Mark 16:5-7; Matthew 28:2-7; Luke 24:4-7; John 20:12-13)?
    • Peter’s inspection of the empty tomb with other companions (Luke 24:12, 24; John 20:3-10)
    • The appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene or plural women (Matthew 28:9-10; John 20:11-18; cf. Mark 16:9)
    • The appearances to Peter and the rest of the Twelve (Mark 14:28; 16:7 [implicit]; Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:36-48; John 20:19-29; 21:1-22; Acts 1:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:5). Note the importance of the appearances in Galilee in Mark 16 and Matthew 28 (cf. John 21:1-22) and in Jerusalem in Luke 24 (cf. how Luke 24:6-7 rewords Mark 16:7) and John 20.
    • Further resurrection appearances (Luke 24:13-35; John 21:1-14; Acts 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:6-8)
    • Compare the ascension and final commission of the disciples in Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:3-11)

The Historical Jesus and the Kingdom of God

Jewish and Graeco-Roman Sources on Jesus

“… he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done…” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1)

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3)

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.” (Tacitus, Annals 15.44)

“Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [a misspelling of “Christ” or a local person in Rome?], he expelled them from Rome” (Seutonius, Claudius 25).

“What are we to say, when the wise are dragged by force by the hands of tyrants, and their wisdom is deprived of its freedom by slander, and they are plundered for their superior intelligence, without the opportunity of making a defence? They are not wholly to be pitied. For what benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death, seeing that they received as retribution for it famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, seeing that in one hour the. whole of their country was covered with sand? Or the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them?” (Mara bar Serapion letter)

“… on a stated day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak and to recite a hymn among themselves to Christ, as though he were a god…” (correspondence between Pliny the Younger and Emperor Trajan, Letters 10.96)

Christian Sources on Jesus

  • Jesus was miraculously conceived by Mary and born in Bethlehem before Herod the Great died in 4 BCE (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2). His family was known in his hometown village of Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6; Matthew 13:54-58) and his brother James became a leader of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 2:9, 12; James 1:1; Jude 1; Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1; Thomas logion 12; Hegesippus, Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.23.4-18).
  • Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John (Mark 1:4-11; Matthew 3:1-17; Luke 3:2-22; John 1:19-34) and frequently compared to him (Matthew 11:1-19/Luke 7:18-35; Mark 6:14-16; 8:27-28; John 3:22-30).
  • The Synoptic Gospels record Jesus mainly ministering in Galilean villages  (e.g., Capernaum, Nazareth, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Genessaret, Sea of Galilee) and in the Decapolis, without noting if he visited urban centers like Tiberius and Sepphoris, and records his last visit to Jerusalem. John’s Gospel records multiple visits to Jerusalem to celebrate Jewish festivals.
  • Jesus had a preaching, healing, and exorcism ministry. He chose twelve apostles (“sent ones”) representing Israel’s twelve tribes (Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 10:1-2, 5-42; 19:28; Luke 6:12-16; 9:1-6; 22:30; John 6:70).
  • Jesus’s table fellowship with tax collectors and “sinners” (cultically impure, Torah transgressors, or rich oppressors?) was criticized (Mark 2:13-17; Matthew 11:19/Luke 7:34; cf. Deuteronomy 21:19-20).
  • Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19).
  • Jesus stages a provocative act of overturning the tables of the money changers in the outer court of the temple, symbolically foreshadowing future judgment on the temple (Mark 11:15-19; Matthew 21:12-17; Luke 19:45-48). Note that John’s Gospel places this act near the beginning of Jesus’s ministry (John 2:13-22) and has the resurrection of Lazarus precipitate the plot against Jesus (John 11).
  • There is debate over whether the Last Supper was a Paschal meal (compare Mark 14:12-26 with John 13:1; 19:31-37). The Synoptic Gospels record Jesus’ words about the bread and cup (Mark 14:22-25; cf. Matthew 26:17-30; Luke 22:16-20; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25), while John records Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:1-17).
  • Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, put on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, and ordered to be executed by crucifixion by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate.
  • Jesus was given a dishonourable burial by the Jewish council member Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:42-47; compare with John 20:38-42).
  • The tomb was discovered empty by a group of Jesus’s female disciples (Mark 16:1-8; Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:1-2) and inspected by Peter and his companions (Luke 24:12, 24; John 20:3-10). The disciples believed that the risen Jesus had appeared to them (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:13-51; John 20:11-29).

The Quest for the Historical Jesus Criteria

Assuming form and redaction criticism, scholars developed the “criteria of authenticity” to distinguish what Jesus said and did from the later traditions about him circulating in the Christ congregations or added by the Gospel writers.

1.  Double Dissimilarity: it cannot be ascribed to Jesus’ Jewish predecessors or contemporaries or his followers.

  • “Let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:21-22; Luke 8:59-60)
  • “Love your enemies” (Matt 5:44/Luke 6:27; but see Proverbs 25:21, 22 and Romans 12:14, 20)
  • Why the disciples do not fast: “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” (Mark 2:18).

2.  Embarrassment: sayings or actions that the Christian tradents or the evangelists may explain away since they seem counterproductive to their theological viewpoints.

  • In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John. (Mark 1:4, 9)
  • Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:13-15)
  • [Herod] shut up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized… (Luke 3:20-21)
  • “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)
  • “In the Gospel according to the Hebrews… But He [Jesus] said to them, ‘what sin have I committed that I should go and be baptized by him’ (Jerome, Against the Pelagians 3.2)

3.  Multiple Attestation: it is found in multiple sources that are literarily independent of each other.

  • John Dominic Crossan’s “An Inventory of the Jesus Tradition by Independent Attestation” (also here, here, and here) has been uploaded online, but his results depend on his controversial decisions about the early dating of some Gospel texts/fragments and their literary independence from the New Testament Gospels.
  • See the multiply attested divorce saying (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18/Matthew 5:31-32; 1 Corinthians 7:10) under the post “The Ethics of Jesus.”
  • See the multiply attested threat of the temple’s desecration or destruction (Mark 11:17; 14:57-59; John 2:19; Acts 6:14-15; Thomas logion 71) under the post “The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.”
  • See the multiply attested theme of the Son of Man’s eschatological return (e.g. Mark 8:38; 13:26; Luke 17:24/Matthew 24:27; Matthew 10:23; Luke 18:8; 21:36; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16) under the post “The Christological Titles of Jesus.”

4. Aramaic reconstruction:

  • Jesus’s use of Abba (cf. James Barr, “Abba Isn’t DaddyJournal of Theological Studies 39.1 [1988]: 28-47) in praying to God the Father (Mark 14:36; cf. Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6)
  • See the discussion about the reconstruction of an Aramaic idiom underlying the Greek title “The Son of Man” under the post “The Christological Titles of Jesus.”

5.  Coherence: it coheres with traditions that passed the criteria tests.

6.  Historical Plausibility: contradicting double dissimilarity, it fits the context of Second Temple Judaism and explains later Christian beliefs or practices

  • “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6.9)
  • “Father, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come.” (Luke 11.2)
  • May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Amen.) in the world that He created as He willed. May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days, and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel, swiftly and soon.” (the Kaddish)
  • Then comes the end, when he [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:24)
  • “…as the Lord commanded in his Gospel, pray thus: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, as in Heaven so also upon earth; give us to-day our daily bread, and forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into trial, but deliver us from the Evil One, for thine is the power and the glory for ever.” Pray thus three times a day. (Didache 8:2-3)

There has been a major challenge to the criteria approach in Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, eds., Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (New York: T&T Clark, 2012). The memory approach does not attempt to go behind the Gospel texts, but takes the social memories about Jesus represented by the texts themselves seriously and asks what kind of reconstructed historical figure could have generated those memories.

Case Study: The Already, Not-Yet Kingdom of God

Did Jesus expect a dramatic divine intervention in the future to establish the kingdom of God or did he believe the kingdom had already arrived in his ministry (i.e. future or realized eschatology)?

Kingdom of God #1

He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’ (Mark 4:30-32; see also Ezek 17:23; 31:16; Dan 4:10-12.)

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 5:3); Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20)

From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven forcefully advances, and men of violence take it by force.  For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John (Matt 11:12-13); The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the Kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently. (Luke 16:16)

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you’ (Luke 17:20-21)

But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:28); But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 11:20)

The disciples of John reported to him about all these things. Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for someone else?” When the men came to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for someone else?’” At that very time he cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and he gave sight to many who were blind. And he answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news proclaimed to them (Isa 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:7, 18; 61:1). Blessed is he who does not take offense at me.” (Luke 7:8-23; see also Matthew 11:2-6)

Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ (Mark 10:15); Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above… Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. (John 3:3, 5)

His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it” (Gospel of Thomas logion 113)

Kingdom of God #2

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has drawn near; repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:48)

‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’ (Mark 9:1)

I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11)

… for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 11:30)

‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. (Matthew 19:28-30); I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:29-30)

Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.  From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he [or “it”] is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place… ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:26-32)

Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’ (Mark 14:25)

The Synoptic Gospels: Oral Sources

Evidence for the oral tradition:

  • It was an oral culture with low literacy rates; even the written Gospels were primarily heard by their audiences in an oral performance
  • A plausible explanation for some of the variations in detail in the Triple or Double Tradition and for the doublets in the Synoptic Gospels
  • A plausible explanation for some material in the Gospels of John and Thomas that is paralleled in the Synoptic Gospels if these are judged to be literarily independent
  • The many predecessors in Luke 1:1-4
  • Not enough books to cover Jesus’s deeds in John 21:24
  • Christian writings (e.g., New Testament Epistles, Apostolic Fathers, non-canonical Gospels) that may independently attest to sayings or traditions appearing in the New Testament Gospels
  • The agrapha or “non-written” sayings of Jesus that are unparalleled in the New Testament Gospels (e.g., Acts 20:35)
  • The preference for the viva voce or “living voice” (Papias, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.4)

The tenets of Formgeschichte (form history) or Form Criticism

  • The Gospels retell the story of Jesus through a post-Easter theological lens (cf. William Wrede).
  • Low literacy rates and imminent expectations of the end of the age did not encourage writing, so isolated sayings of Jesus or short memorable episodes were passed down by word of mouth.
  • Except for the previously interconnected Passion Narrative, the evangelist “Mark” linked independent oral traditions together in a loose chronological framework (e.g. note the literary seams from the phrase “and immediately” to non-specific temporal references and locations) or grouped them topically (e.g., controversies in 2:1-3:6 or parables in 4:1-34).
  • The oral units can be classified according to their literary forms:




    (Tradition to Gospel)

    Paradigms, Tales, Legends, Exhortations, Mythological Stories


    (Synoptic Tradition)

    Apophthegms (controversial, scholastic, biographical); Dominical Sayings (Logia, Prophetic, Legal or Church-Rules, I-sayings, Similitudes); Miracle Stories (Healing, Nature); Historical Stories and Legends


    (Gospel Tradition)

    Pronouncement Stories, Miracle Stories, Sayings & Parables, Stories about Jesus
  • A form corresponded to a Sitz im Leben (“situation in life”): missionary preaching, catechetical teachings, guidelines on church discipline, worship, or debates with outsiders.
  • Traditions grew over time: forms were combined (e.g. Mark 2:1-12: pronouncement or miracle story?), sayings were lengthened, details were embellished, prophetic utterances in the name of the risen Jesus were read back into Jesus’s earthly life, and there was cultural translation from a Jewish to a Hellenistic milieu.
  • Redaction criticism: how the evangelists selected, arranged, and edited their oral and written sources.
  • Key names: Karl Ludwig Schmidt, Martin Dibelius, Rudolf Bultmann.

Assumptions of form criticism that are open to critique

  • modern form classifications that are unparalleled in ancient rhetoric
  • original unitary forms that had a single function in one setting
  • set trajectories for how traditions expand over time (cf. E. P. Sanders)
  • individual sayings or deeds of Jesus circulated in isolation from larger interpretive frameworks (e.g. longer thematic discourses, social memories of the general outline of Jesus’s ministry or his individual character)
  • the form critics downplayed the literary and theological skill of the evangelists when they were treated as compilers of tradition
  • the early Christ followers did not distinguish Jesus’s authoritative teachings from their own personal declarations (contra 1 Corinthians 7:8-16)
  • eschatological enthusiasm as an impediment to writing (contra the Dead Sea Scrolls) and an alleged lack of interest in written sources
  • the Jewish versus Hellenistic dichotomy (cf. Martin Hengel)
  • See Stephen H. Travis, “Form Criticism” in New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1977).

Alternative models to Form Criticism:

  • An analogy of how oral tradition was controlled by authorized teachers and strictly memorized in rabbinic literature. See the work of Harald Riesenfeld and Birger Gerhardsson.
  • An analogy of Middle Eastern village communities informally exercising control over how oral traditions are retold based on their communal memory and deciding how much flexibility is permitted in the retelling (e.g. poems or proverbs were unaltered while parables or stories can vary in the details as long as the “punch line” is intact). See the work of Kenneth Bailey taken up by James D. G. Dunn and N. T. Wright.
  • The Gospel writers name (or occasionally use “protective anonymity” for) their eyewitness sources and local informants within their narratives. See the work of Samuel Byrskog and Richard Bauckham.
  • The effort to reconstruct Aramaic sources behind the Greek Gospels. See the work of Maurice Casey.
  • More sophisticated studies of individual and social memory that emphasize how the past is both preserved and interpreted in the present. See Anthony Le Donne’s “Social Memory Theories and Gospels: A Preliminary Biography” and the video lectures about memory studies on the website Biblical Studies Online.

Example: The Pronouncement Story

  • “a brief narrative in which the climatic (and often final) element is a pronouncement which is presented as a particular person’s response to something said or observed on a particular occasion of the past. There are two main parts of a pronouncement story: the pronouncement and its setting, i.e., the response and the situation that provoked the response.” (Robert Tannehill, “Introduction: The Pronouncement Story and Its Types” Semeia 20 [1981]: 1)
  • The χρεία (chreia) as defined by Theon in the Progymnasmata (96) as “a brief saying or action making a point, attributed to some specified person or something corresponding to a person…” For a list of 14 rhetorical exercises, see Gideon O. Burton’s page on the Progymnasmata.
  • For further research, see Vernon K. Robbins’ “Chreia & Pronouncement Story in Synoptic Studies“, Ben Witherington III’s “NT Rhetoric: A Handbook“, and Keith Reich’s “Rhetoric and the NT” blog.
  • For specific cases in the Synoptic Gospels, see Mark Allan Powell handout on “Pronouncement Stories in the Gospels: Some Examples

Example: The Parable

  • From the Hebrew mashal and the Greek parabolḗ
  • The allegorical method: see David B. Gowler’s discussion of Saint Augustine’s interpretation on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Questions on the Gospels 2.19) on his blog “A Chorus of Voices: The Reception History of the Parables
  • Adolf Jülicher (1857-1938): Jesus’s authentic parables were simple comparisons between an image and the object that it corresponded to (e.g. the kingdom is like a mustard seed [Mark 4:30-32], leaven in dough [Matthew 13:33/Luke 13:20-21], buried treasure [Matthew 13:44], and a dragnet full of fish [Matthew 13:47-50]). Allegorical elements in the Gospels are secondary (e.g. parable of the sower [Mark 4:1-20]).
  • De-contextualized parables in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas (compare the parable of the wicked tenants in Mark 12:1-12 with Thomas logion 65 + 66). To compare the parables in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Thomas, see Anne McGuire’s “Parallel Versions of the Parables of Jesus” and “List of the Parables of Jesus.”
  • Literary (e.g. structuralism, reader-response theory) and political approaches to the parables.
  • The parables in canonical contexts: extended metaphors (even a chastened return to allegory?), a comparison with rabbinic parables, and prophetic challenges.
  • A brief bibliography (see also Philip J. Long’s review of parable research at his blog “Reading Acts“)
    • Blomberg, Craig. Interpreting the Parables. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990.
    • Crossan, John Dominic. In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus. San Francisco: Harper, 1985.
    • Dodd, C. H. The Parables of the Kingdom. London: Nisbet and Company, Ltd, 1935.
    • Funk, Robert W. Language, Hermeneutic, and Word of God: The Problem of Language in the New Testament and Contemporary Theology. New York: Harper, 1966.
    • Herzog II, William The Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994.
    • Jeremias, Joachim. The Parables of Jesus. Translated by H. Hooke. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1955.
    • Levine, Amy-Jill. Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. New York: HarperOne, 2014.
    • Linnemann, Eta. Jesus of the Parables: Introduction and Exposition. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.
    • Snodgrass, Klyne. Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. See also his Bible Odyssey post “The Parables of Jesus
  • Example: Miracle Stories
    • Divided into Healing and Nature Miracles
    • See this post for a closer examination of the miracle stories in the Gospels


The Synoptic Gospels: Literary Sources

Synoptic derives from the prefix σύν (syn, with, together) and ὀπτῐκός (optikos, “sight”). The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are the Synoptic Gospels because they are so much alike and, by consulting a Synopsis, one can read the three Gospels side by side in parallel columns.

There must be a literary relationship between the three Gospels:

  • The agreement in order and wording, including verbatim agreement
  • There are even agreements in the authors’ explanatory asides:
    • So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand) (Matthew 24:15)
    • But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand) (Mark 13:14)
    • When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near (Luke 21:20)
  • Triple Tradition: material shared by all three Synoptic Gospels
  • Double Tradition: material shared by Matthew and Luke but not Mark
  • Sondergut: “special material” unique to a Gospel such as “M” or “L

Diagrams of the Synoptic Problem

  • Two/Four Source, Farrer (Mark without Q), Griesbach (Two Gospel), and Augustinian hypotheses (courtesy of Felix Just’s The Synoptic Problem)


Markan Posterity or Priority?

  • The Patristic consensus and the Canonical and Western ordering of the Gospels favours Matthean priority.
  • Is Mark’s Gospel an abridgment or harmonizing summary of the Jewish Christian Gospel of Matthew and the Gentile Christian Gospel of Luke?
    • Mark’s outline covers John’s baptism ministry to the empty tomb (1:1-16:8), lacking accounts of Jesus’s birth and Easter appearances to his disciples (cf. Matthew 1-2; 28:9-20; Luke 1-2; 24:9-53).
    • Mark has more details in individual episodes that are unparalleled in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, including the emotional states of Jesus (Mark 1:41; 3:5), the hostility of Jesus’s family towards him (3:31), the use of saliva to heal and the two-stage healing of the blind person (7:32-35; 8:23-26), the aside that it was not the season for figs (11:14), the sons of Simon of Cyrene (15:21), and the flight of a naked young man in the Garden (14:51-52).
  • Order: Mark is often the “middle term,” meaning that Matthew and Luke rarely agree in wording or order against Mark.
  • Length: Matthew reproduces around 90% of Mark’s content while Luke around 65% with some major omissions (e.g. Mark 6:45-8:26).
  • The refined grammatical and literary style of Matthew and Luke:
    • Mark’s Aramaic expressions (3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 14:36)
    • Mark’s repetitive use of καὶ εὐθύς (“and immediately”)
    • Compare the imagery in Mark 1:12, Matthew 4:1, and Luke 4:1.
    • Compare the title given to Herod in Mark 6:14 and Luke 3:19.
  • Mark’s Gospel features some harder readings:
    • Compare the accounts of the Sabbath incident in Mark 2:23-28, Matthew 12:1-8, and Luke 6:1-5.
    • Compare the accounts of Jesus walking on the water in Mark 6:47-52 and Matthew 14:24-33 (omitted by Luke).
    • Compare Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi and the aftermath in Mark 8:27-9:1, Matthew 16:13-28, and Luke 9:18-27.
    • Compare the reactions to Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth in Mark 6:2-6, Matthew 13:54-58, and Luke 4:16-30.
    • Compare the accounts of Jesus’s interaction with a rich man in Mark 10:17-31, Matthew 19:16-30, and Luke 18:18-30.
    • Compare the predictions of Peter’s denials in Mark 14:29-31, Matthew 26:33-35, and Luke 22:31-34.

Double Tradition: derived from a common source (German Quelle) or from Luke’s use of Matthew’s Gospel (or vice-versa)?

  • The Double Tradition mostly consists of sayings of Jesus, but there is a handful of narrative episodes.
  • Lack of Matthew’s additions to Mark’s text in Luke’s Gospel: evidence of Luke’s independence from Matthew or a choice to generally privilege Mark’s account without the Matthean additions?
    • Matt 3:14-15 – the dialogue between Jesus and John the Baptist.
    • Matt 16:16-19 – imparting on Peter blessing and keys to the kingdom
  • Lack of “M” (Matthew’s unique material) in Luke’s Gospel: evidence of Luke’s independence from Matthew or an editorial choice to exclude some of Matthew’s special material?
    • Compare the nativity accounts in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.
    • Compare Judas’s death in Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-20.
  • The general lack of agreement between Matthew and Luke when departing from Mark’s order.
    • When was Peter’s mother-in-law and the leper healed in Mark (1:29-31, 40-45), Matthew (8:1-4, 14-15), and Luke (4:38-39; 5:12-15).
    • When did Jesus visit the synagogue in Nazareth in Mark 6:1-6, Matthew 13:54-58, and Luke 4:16-30?
  • Alternating Primitivity?
    • Compare the beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-23 (cf. woes in 6:24-26)
    • Compare the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.
    • Compare the sayings about Wisdom in Matthew 11:19 and 23:34-35 (cf. 11:28-30; Sirach 51:25-26) and Luke 7:35 and 11:49.
  • The different ordering of Jesus’s teachings.
    • Compare the two major teaching blocks in Luke 6:20-7:50 and 9:51-18:14 and the five discourses in Matthew 5:1-7:28, 10:1-11:1, 13:1-53, 18:1-19:1, and 24:4-26:1.
    • Compare the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7 and “Sermon on the Plains” in Luke 6:20-49.
  • Scholarly reconstructions of “The Sayings Gospel Q” and online resources pertaining to Q scholarship.
  • Objections to Luke’s independence from Matthew: minor agreements.
    • Matthew and Luke agree in numerous instances against Mark in the Triple Tradition (common grammar or phrasing, additions or deletions to Mark’s text)
    • Example: the guards mock Jesus to prophesy in Mark 14:65, but specify “who hit you” in Matthew 26:67-8 and Luke 22:64.
  • Objections to Luke’s independence from Matthew: major agreements or Mark-Q overlaps.
    • John’s preaching (Matthew 3:7-10, 11b-12; Luke 3:7-9, 16b-17).
    • Jesus’s temptations (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; cf. Mark 1:12-13).
    • the authority behind Jesus’s exorcisms (Matthew 12:25-32; Luke 11:17-23; 12:10; cf. Mark 3:23-30).
    • the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10)



The Gospel of John

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).
  • “John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep in Ephesus.” (Polycrates, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.24.2-3)
  • “…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, 9-16).
  • “Nevertheless, of all the disciples of the Lord, only Matthew and John have left us written memorials, and they, tradition says, were led to write only under the pressure of necessity… John accordingly, in his Gospel, records the deeds of Christ which were performed before the Baptist was cast into prison, but the other three evangelists mention the events which happened after that time.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.24.5, 12)

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 some of the pros and cons over identifying the beloved disciple as the Apostle John:

  • The Apostle 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, though it is set after Easter in John’s Gospel and during Jesus’s ministry when he calls the first disciples in Luke’s Gospel.
  • John may be the anonymous disciple with Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, in John 1:35-42. Yet the Johannine scene where Jesus recruits two disciples from the movement of John the Baptizer 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 and the anonymous disciple is not identified as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”
  • 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 follower from Jerusalem may have hosted the meal. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” may be first introduced in John 13:23.
  • 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 Gospel of John never mentions this trio as an inner circle among the disciples.
  • Unlike the Twelve who fled, the beloved disciple is loyal to the point where he stands at the foot of the cross (19:25-27, 35).
  • 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 also imply that he had a residence in or near Jerusalem.
  • If the “other disciple” in John 18:15-16 is the beloved disciple (cf. John 20:2), he may have been a prominent person with connections to the high priest rather than a Galilean fisher.
  • 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.”


  • The Rylands Library Papyrus 52 is a fragment of a few verses from John 18:31-33, 37-38 and commonly dated in the first half of the 2nd century, but note the challenges to this dating in this article.
  • There is debate over the earliest Patristic reference to Johannine literature (e.g., Papias of Hierapolis, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, or Justin Martyr?). It should also be noted that some early writers may cite the first epistle of John, but there is a question over whether it may have been circulating together with or separately from the Gospel.
  • 1 John may be dependent on the Gospel of John, perhaps even an “orthodox” commentary on the Gospel opposing secessionists who denied the incarnation or saving significance of Jesus’s life “in the flesh” (4:2-3; 5:6-8; 2 John 7), or its composition may predate the Gospel and it may have relied on common Johannine traditions.
  • There is debate about whether John’s Gospel exhibits literary dependence on one or more of the Synoptic Gospels.
  • There is debate about the other oral or written sources that were utilized in John’s Gospel (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 took for the divine Christology in John’s Gospel to have developed (1:1-3; 5:17-18; 8:58; 20:28; but cf. Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:1-4).
  • There is debate about whether the 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), but there is debate over when the birkat ha-minim was formulated and who it may have targeted and it may not have functioned as a device for identifying “heretics” so that they could then be expelled.
  • There is debate about how many editorial revisions went into the composition of John’s Gospel. For instance, the final form of the book included an epilogue in chapter 21 after the conclusion in John 20:30-31 which contained traditions about the deaths of Peter (by crucifixion?) and the beloved disciple (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 early reception of 1 John by Papias of Hierapolis and Polycarp of Smyrna and the major impact that John’s Gospel had in Asia Minor (e.g. the Quartodeciman controversy), the affinities with the book of Revelation (e.g. Christological titles such as Word 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
    • 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.” This was available in the present through trusting that Jesus was sent by God, but there would be a future judgment and resurrection (e.g. 5:25-29; 6:39-58).

Case Study: 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 that lays down his life for the sheep (10:11)
  • the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)
  • the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6)
  • the Vine that supports the branches (15:1).

The Book of Acts

External Evidence

“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)

“Moreover, the acts of all the apostles were written in one book. For ‘most excellent Theophilus’ Luke compiled the individual events that took place in his presence — as he plainly shows by omitting the martyrdom of Peter as well as the departure of Paul from the city [of Rome] when he journeyed to Spain.” (The Muratorian Canon, 34-39)

Now, since the Acts of the Apostles thus agree with Paul, it becomes apparent why you reject them. It is because they declare no other God than the Creator, and prove Christ to belong to no other God than the Creator; while the promise of the Holy Ghost is shown to have been fulfilled in no other document than the Acts of the Apostles” (Tertullian, Against Marcion 5.2)

“First then must be put the holy quaternion of the Gospels; following them the Acts of the Apostles.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.25.1)

“And indeed afterward this same Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles.” (Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke’s Gospel)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

The book of Acts is the sequel of Luke’s Gospel: “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; 28:1-16.

  • The author was a firsthand participant in the narrated events. Irenaeus correlated the last time the “we” is used in Acts 28:16 with the statement that “Luke alone is with me” in 2 Timothy 4:10-11. See also Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History.
  • 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 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 the other readers

  • The Gospel may have been dedicated to a wealthy patron who sponsored the writer’s literary project.
  • “Theophilus” may be symbolic for the church as it means “friend of God.”
  • There is debate about whether the initial readership was predominantly Christians from non-Jewish backgrounds or a mixed Christian audience composed of Jews and non-Jewish “God-fearers” who had attended the synagogue.
  • The provenance could be Antioch (church tradition, the Western text that has the first person plural in Acts 11:28), Ephesus (cf. a mirror to the author’s situation in Acts 20:17-38), Rome (the ultimate destination in Acts 28:16-31), or an unknown location.


  • Dates range from the early 60s to 130 CE. Most scholars date the book of Acts between 75-100 CE, though a minority date it on the earlier (cf. Hemer) or later (cf. Richard Pervo, Joseph B. Tyson) end of the spectrum.
  • Since Luke 19:41-44 and 21:20 seems to reflect knowledge of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, its sequel in the book of Acts must post-date 70 CE.
  • Acts ends with Paul awaiting trial in Rome, without narrating his execution around 64 CE. However, the curtain may close as its central focus was how the gospel spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth via arriving at the heart of the Empire (Acts 1:8; 28:30-31).
  • There is debate over whether or not Acts was influenced by a collection of Pauline Epistles. On the one hand, there are interesting differences between Acts and Paul’s firsthand testimony about his own apostleship, biography, travels, and theology. On the other hand, there are striking overlaps between Acts and Paul’s epistles (e.g. compare Acts 15:1-21, 35-41 with Galatians 2:1-14; Acts 9:23-25 with 1 Corinthians 11:32-33).
  • There is debate over whether Josephus’s Antiquities, published around 93-94 CE, was a source for Acts. Compare the accounts of the rebels Judas of Galilee and Theudas in Acts 5:36-37 with Antiquities 20.97-102 or the death of Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12:20-23 with Antiquities 19.343-50.
  • The “Christians” are known to political authorities as a distinct entity (Acts 11:26; 26:28; cf. 1 Peter 4:16) and there may be a level of ecclesiastical organization in the governance of churches by “elders” (presbyteroi) and “overseers” (episkopoi) (cf. Acts 20:17-38).

Key Themes in the Acts of the Apostles

  • When the disciples ask whether or not Jesus was about to restore the kingdom to Israel (cf. Luke 21:24), the risen one responds that this will happen at an unknown date fixed by the Father and that they are to be his witnesses in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:6-8). The evangelist Philip inaugurates the mission in Samaria (8:5-25) and Peter ministered to the non-Jewish centurion Cornelius (10:1-11:18; cf. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in 8:26-39).
  • The twelve apostles governed the mother church in Jerusalem (cf. replacing Judas by Matthias to restore the number “twelve” in 1:15-26) and other missionaries like Paul and Barnabas are generally subservient to rather than identified as “apostles” or “sent ones” (exception: 14:4).
  • The church is completely harmonious, though occasional cracks appear beneath the surface like the division between the Hebrews and the Hellenists (6:1-15), the debate at the Jerusalem Council (15:1-21; cf. 21:17-25), and the split of Paul from Barnabas (15:36-41).
  • The Christians message is 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 (e.g. the apostles attend the temple, Peter’s obeys a kosher diet, Paul circumcises Timothy and participates in a Nazarite vow). Acts seems to portray the church as primarily drawn from the ranks of the Jews and non-Jewish “God-fearers” who attended synagogues (compare Paul’s target audience in Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-9 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10); this can be compared with the poor reception of Paul among the philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:1-34).
  • Stephen’s speech, including his denunciation of the temple as an idol built with hands (7:48-50), and the scattering of all but the apostles in Jerusalem (8:1) marks a turning point. There are signs that the majority of adherents joining the Jesus movement were non-Jewish (cf. Acts 13:46-48; 18:6; 28:26-28). Nevertheless, the future is open-ended and Paul continues to evangelize Jews and non-Jews (28:30-31).

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 Marcion, mutilating that according to Luke, is proved to be a blasphemer of the only existing God, from those [passages] which he still retains” (Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies 3.11.7)

“Marcion, on the other hand, you must know, ascribes no author to his Gospel… Now, of the authors whom we possess, Marcion seems to have singled out Luke for his mutilating process. Luke, however, was not an apostle, but only an apostolic man; not a master, but a disciple, and so inferior to a master” (Tertullian, Against Marcion 4.2)

“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)

“…third, Luke, who has composed for those from the Gentiles the gospel praised by Paul.” (Origen, 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… [he] instigated by the holy spirit, in parts of Achaea wrote down this gospel, he who was taught not only by the apostle, who was not with the Lord in the flesh, but also by the other apostles, who were with the Lord, even making clear this very thing himself in the preface, that the others were written down before his, and that it was necessary that he accurately expound for the gentile faithful the entire economy in his narrative, lest they, detained by Jewish fables, be held by a sole desire for the law, or lest, seduced by heretical fables and stupid instigations, they slip away from the truth. It being necessary, then, immediately in the beginning we receive report of the nativity of John, who is the beginning of the gospel, who was the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ, and a partaker in the perfecting of the people, and also in the induction of baptism, and a partaker of his passion and of the fellowship of the spirit. Zechariah the prophet, one of the twelve, made mention of this economy.” (Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke’s Gospel)

Authorship: Internal Evidence

The author imitates a Graeco-Roman literary preface (cf. historiography, biography, scientific treatises), but chooses to remain anonymous.

  • “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” (Luke 1:1)

The following explanations have been offered for the sporadic usage of the first-person plural in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-37; 28:1-16.

  • The author was a firsthand participant in the narrated events. This is the view held in the majority of commentaries on the book.
  • 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.
  • “Theophilus” may be symbolic for the church as it means “friend 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 for the two volume work Luke-Acts. Most scholars date it between 75-100 CE, though a minority date it on the earlier (cf. Colin J. Hemer) or the later (cf. Richard Pervo, Joseph B. Tyson) end of the spectrum.
  • Luke was literarily dependent on Mark’s Gospel and must postdate it. There is debate over whether the Gospels of Luke and Matthew independently relied on a common sayings source called Q (Quelle or “source”) or whether one was literarily dependent on the other.
  • There are similarities between the Gospels of Luke and John such as the woman who anointed Jesus’s  feet (Luke 7:36–50; John 12:1–8), the naming of Lazarus and the sisters Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38–42; 16:19–31; John 11:1–44), the inspection by Peter of the empty tomb (Luke 24:12; John 20:2–9), the resurrection accounts localized in Jerusalem (Luke 24:1–11, 33–53; John 20:1–29), and the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11; John 21:1-11). These similarities may be based on the common use of oral traditions or on one Gospel writer copying the other.
  • Luke 19:41-44 and 21:20 may reflect knowledge of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.
  • The Gospel of Luke is the first part of a two-part work and must date before its sequel, the book of Acts. 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 debates about whether the author of Luke’s Gospel had access to the Pauline Epistles. Compare Luke 18:9-14 with Paul’s view of justification by faith or the Lord’s Supper in Luke 22:15-20 (note the omission of verses 19b-20 in some Western witnesses) with Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (cf. Mark 14:22-25 and Matthew 26:26-29). Further examples are provided in the handout on Acts.
  • There is debate over whether Luke-Acts is literarily dependent or independent of Josephus’s Antiquities published around 93-94 CE. Compare the account of the census in Luke 2:1-3 with Josephus’s account in Antiquities 18.1-5 (cf. War 2.117-18). There is debate over whether Acts is literarily dependent or independent of Josephus’s Antiquities. Further examples are provided in the handout on Acts.

Key Themes in the Gospel of Luke

  • There are unique Lukan sayings, parables, and narratives on economic and social inequality
    • Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
    • the shepherds in the infancy narrative (Luke 2:8-20)
    • the poor person’s sacrificial offering (Luke 2:22-24)
    • not extorting money or excessive interest (Luke 3:10-14; 6:34-35)
    • Isaiah’s good news to the poor (Luke 4:16-21; cf. 7:22-23)
    • the Lukan form of the beatitudes and woes (Luke 6:20-26)
    • the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
    • Mary as a disciple (Luke 10:38-42)
    • the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21)
    • hosting a banquet for the needy (Luke 14:7-14)
    • the woman with the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10)
    • the son who squandered his inheritance (Luke 15:11-32)
    • the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-15)
    • the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)
    • the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8)
    • the repentance of the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)
  • ministering to non-Jews outside the boundaries of Israel
    • Simeon’s prophecy about how Jesus would be a light of revelation for the nations (Luke 2:32).
    • Tracing Jesus’s genealogy to the original human (Luke 3:38)
    • Compare Luke 4:16-30, where the crowd takes offense at Jesus’s remarks about how the prophets Elijah and Elisha healed foreigners, with the parallel accounts of the incident in the Nazarene synagogue in Mark 6:1-6 and Matthew 13:54-58 where the members were incredulous that a local resident was a prophet.
    • Ten lepers are healed, but only a Samaritan returns to express gratitude in Luke 17:12-19.
  • 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.
  • Peter will be fully rehabilitated after his temporary lapse in denying Jesus three times (see Luke 22:31-34) and will emerge as the leading spokesperson of the Jesus movement in the first twelve chapters of Acts.

Case Study: Women in the Gospel of Luke

  • Unique accounts of women in Luke’s Gospel: Elizabeth (1:5-25, 39-45, 59-80), Mary (1:26-38, 46-56; 2:4-52), the prophetess Anna (2:36-38), the sinful woman (7:36-50), the wealthy female patrons of Jesus including Mary Magdalene (8:2-3), the sisters Mary and Martha (10:38-42), the woman with the lost coin (15:8-10), the poor widow (18:1-8)
  • Watch the video lecture by Professor Emerita Carolyn Osiek entitled “Carolyn Osiek on Women Disciples, Leaders, and Apostles: Mary Magdalene’s Sisters




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.” (Anti-Marcionite Prologue to  Mark)

“And they say that this Mark was the first that was sent to Egypt, and that he proclaimed the Gospel which he had written, and first established churches in Alexandria.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.16.1)

“Mark follows him closely, and looks like his attendant and epitomizer. For in his narrative he gives nothing in concert with John apart from the others: by himself separately, he has little to record; in conjunction with Luke, as distinguished from the rest, he has still less; but in concord with Matthew, he has a very large number of passages.” (Augustine, The Harmony of the Gospels 1.2.4)

Mark too, in Egypt, is said to have done this self-same thing [wrote a Gospel] at the entreaty of the disciples” (John Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew 1.7)

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 knowledge 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 in 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.
  • 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 CE that contains all four gospels and P.Oxy LXXXIII 535 dated to the late 2nd or early 3rd century.
  • 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 an earlier source, the followers of the Elder John.
  • 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. there is no 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 place a statue 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 form? What does Mark’s Gospel presuppose about the Torah observance of Christ followers or the Christian mission to the nations (Mark 13:10, 27)?
  • 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; 14:9)?
  • There is no copy of Mark’s Gospel, or any Christian text, found at Qumran (cf. Daniel Wallace, “7Q5: The Earliest NT Papyrus?“).

Key Themes

  • There is dramatic irony in the narrative of Mark in that, while both the reader and the supernatural characters know the truth about Jesus’ Christological identity, the human characters in the narrative are either ignorant about it or are silenced when they discover it (see more information on the messianic secret below).
  • Jesus’s overwhelming power in the first half of the narrative (e.g. the exorcisms, healings, and nature miracles) 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 Mark 2:20 and 3:6 and there are 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 (6:6-13), they frequently misunderstood Jesus’s message and deserted him in the passion narrative. It is supposed outsiders – a woman suffering from hemorrhages who reached out to touch Jesus, 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.

Case Study: The Messianic Secret

  • Explicit identifications of Jesus as the Messiah or the Son of God by the narrator (Mark 1:1), God (1:11; 9:7), and (ironically?) by the Roman centurion at the cross (15:37-39). Jesus also answers the high priest’s question in the affirmative (14:61-62; cf. Matthew 26:64/Luke 22:67-70).
  • Whenever humans or demons recognize Jesus’s identity during his ministry, Jesus silences them (1:24-25; 8:29-30; 9:9-10).
  • A closely related theme is when Jesus silences those he heals from spreading the news (e.g. 1:40-45; 5:18-20, 35-43; 7:35-37). However, the characters often disobey and Jesus was then swarmed by the crowds.
  • The parables are also designed to conceal the “mystery of the kingdom” from those outside the inner circle of disciples (4:11-12)
  • William Wrede’s theory was that the theme of the “messianic secret” was an editorial addition introduced by the evangelist and that it was designed to impute the post-Easter belief in Jesus’ messiahship back to Jesus’ pre-Easter ministry.
  • Other theories for the “messianic secret” is that the titles “Christ” and “Son of God” were liable to being misconstrued in this-worldly terms (a would-be political candidate or a Hellenistic miracle-working divine man), that Jesus refused to allow the demons to misuse his name as a way of trying to attain power over him, that the Markan Jesus challenged conventions of honour and shame by refusing to be identified as a powerful benefactor, that Mark presented Jesus as the ideal ruler who does not demand excessive public honors, or that Jesus’s messianic mission cannot be fully grasped apart from his sacrificial death.
  • A short bibliography:
    • William Wrede, The Messianic Secret (translated by J. C. G. Greig; London: Clarke, 1971 [1901]).
    • David Aune, “The Problem of the Messianic Secret” Novum Testamentum 11 (1969): 1-31.
    • J.D.G. Dunn, “The Messianic Secret in Mark” Tyndale Bulletin 21 (1970): 92-117.
    • J. L. Blevins, The Messianic Secret in Markan Research, 1901-1976 (Washington: University Press of America, 1981).
    • C. M. Tuckett, The Messianic Secret (London: SPCK, 1983).
    • Heikki Räisänen, The ‘Messianic Secret’ in Mark’s Gospel (trans. Christopher Tuckett; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990).
    • David F. Watson, Honor among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010).
    • Adam Winn, “Resisting Honor: The Markan Secrecy Motif and Roman Political Ideology” JBL 133 (2014): 583-601.

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.'” (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)

“Matthew, also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek, though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Cæsarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Berœa, a city of Syria, who use it.” (Jerome, On Illustrious Men 3)

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. Matthew may have either 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. There is also debate on whether the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are literarily independent of each other, with their common material derived from a shared source labelled “Q” (from Quelle or “source”), or whether Luke was dependent on the text of Matthew.
  • 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, Q, another lost source text, 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

  • Matthew emphasizes that the saving mission of Jesus the Messiah is rooted in the antiquity of the Jewish Scriptures, from the opening genealogy tracing Jesus’s descent to Abraham and David (1:1-17) to the fulfillment of Scripture formulas (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:54-56; 27:9). Key to Matthew’s interpretive method is “typology” in which Jesus recapitulates the experiences of past scriptural types (compare Matthew 1:22-23 to Isaiah 7:1-17; Matthew 2:6 to Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:15 to Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:17-18 to Jeremiah 31:15, and Matthew 2:23 to Isaiah 11:1/Zech 3:8 and 6:12 that contain the Hebrew word netser or “branch”).
  • Discipleship to Jesus is 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 the authoritative teacher in other sources.
  • Matthew’s Gospel may 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).

Case Study: Jesus as the New Moses

  • Jesus escapes the slaughter of the infants ordered by a tyrant (2:13-16).
  • Jesus spent his early years in Egypt (2:19-20).
  • Jesus performed sea and feeding miracles (8:23-28; 14:13-33) and the demonic “legion” drowned in the Sea like Pharaoh’s army (8:28-34).
  • Jesus acted as an interpreter of Torah in the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7). Jesus also offers his great commission to make disciples of all nations on a mountain (28:16-20).
  • The teachings of Jesus were organized into 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).