New Testament Survey: The Gospels
About this Class
Dr. Robert Stein
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke record some of the same stories and even use the same wording in sections. They also each have material that is unique, and the chronology is different in some places. Both the purpose of each gospel and the role of oral and written tradition play a role in understanding the similarities and differences.
The Gospel of Mark is shorter than the other Gospels and some of the grammar and theology is unique. There are also significant portions of Mark that are contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Discussion of the extensive similarities between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It's possible that Mark was already written and they used that as a source. It's aslo likely that they had in common other oral and written sources of what Jesus did and taught.
Some time passed between the ascension of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels because there was no need for a written account while the eyewitnesses were still alive. In that culture, oral tradition was the primary method of preserving history. Form critics also note that it is likely that it is likely that many of the narratives and sayings of Jesus circulated independently.
Form criticism is the method of classifying literature by literary pattern to determine its original form and historical context in order to interpret its meaning accurately. The Gospels were not written to be objective biographies. They omit large portions of the life of Jesus, they include accounts of miraculous events and they have a purpose to demonstrate that Jesus is both God and human.
Redaction criticism focuses on evaluating how a writer has seemingly shaped and molded a narrative to express his theological goals. Examining how Matthew and Luke used passages from Mark can give you insight into their theology and their purpose for writing their Gospel.
Studying the background and theological emphases of the Gospel of Mark helps us to understand the central message of his Gospel. The central point of the Gospel of Mark is the death of Jesus when he was crucified. This event happened because it was a divine necessity in God's plan to redeem humanity. It's likely that the Gospel of Mark is a written record of the apostle Peter's account.
The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes how Jesus' life, death and resurrection fulfilled prophecies that were made in the Old Testament. Matthew also shows concern for the church and has a strong eschatological emphasis.
Luke emphasizes the great loving concern of God for the oppressed, such as tax collectors, physically impaired, women and Samaritans. He warns of the dangers of riches and emphasizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
John's Gospel focuses on Christology and emphasizes dualism and eschatology. John has long pericopes, clear statements about the identity of Jesus and a number of stories not found in the synoptic Gospels.
By studying the background and comparing the text of the synoptic gospels, we can be confident of their authenticity. Many of the accounts in the Gospels appear in multiple Gospels and are confirmed by separate witnesses. Details in the narratives and parables are consistent with the culture and common practices of the time in that region.
In order to understand Jesus' teaching, it is important to understand how he uses exaggeration and determine when he is using exaggeration to make a point. An exaggeration is something that is literally impossible and sometimes conflicts with teachings of the Old Testament or other teachings of Jesus. They often use idiomatic language that had a specific meaning to the original hearers.
The Gospels record how Jesus used different literary forms to communicate his teachings. He communicated effectively with everyone including children, common people, religious leaders and foreigners. He used a variety of literary devices to communicate in a way that was effective and memorable. (This class was taught by a teaching assistant of Dr. Stein's but his name was not provided.)
It's important to know how to interpret parables to accurately understand what Jesus was trying to teach. At different times in history, people have used different paradigms to interpret parables. Each parable has one main point. To interpret the parable, seek to understand what Jesus meant, what the evangelist meant and what God wants to teach you today.
Dr. Stein uses the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of how to apply the four rules of interpreting parables. He also applies the four rules to interpret the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl, the ten virgins, the unjust steward and the laborers in the vineyard.
Jesus used different literary forms to communicate with people. It's important to know how to interpret these literary forms, including parables, to accurately understand what Jesus was trying to teach. The rule of end stress is one factor in determining the main teaching of a parable. Dr. Stein describes two parts of a parable as the, "picture part" and the "reality part."
The kingdom of God is God's kingdom invading the earthly kingdom. In the Gospels, there are both "realized" passages and "future" passages. There is a tension between the "now" and "not yet" and it is important to emphasize each aspect equally.
Jesus' teaching about the fatherhood of God reveals for us a tension between reverence and intimacy. Jesus shows his reverence for God by not using the name of God even when referring to God. When he refers to God as Father, it is an indication of a personal relationship.
Jesus does not provide an organized ethical system, but his ethical teachings are scattered throughout the Gospels. Sometimes they seem to be contradictory, until you look at them more closely. He emphasized the need for a new heart and the importance of loving God and our "neighbor." Jesus upheld the validity of the Law but was opposed to the oral traditions.
Implicit Christology is what Jesus reveals of himself and his understanding of himself by his actions words and deeds. Jesus demonstrates his authority over the three sacred aspects of Israel which are the temple, the Law and the Sabbath.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who are the programs intended for?
The Foundations program is intended for everyone, regardless of biblical knowledge. The Academy program is intended for those who would like more advanced studies. And the Institute program is intended for those who want to study seminary-level classes.
Do I need to take the classes in a specific order?
In the Foundations and Academy programs, we recommend taking the classes in the order presented, as each subsequent class will build on material from previous classes. In the Institute program, the first 11 classes are foundational. Beginning with Psalms, the classes are on specific books of the Bible or various topics.
Do you offer transfer credit for completing a certificate program?
At this time, we offer certificates only for the classes on the Certificates page. While we do not offer transfer credit for completing a certificate program, you will be better equipped to study the Bible and apply its teachings to your life.