Articles Comments

Yeshua in Context >> Formation of the Gospels

How We Know Mark Was the Earliest Gospel

How did students of the four Gospels determine that the earliest of them is Mark? The answer is fairly simple and the case is overwhelmingly clear. How certain is the conclusion? It is so certain that only a small percentage of scholars hold to any other theory. The large agreement among different interpreters of the Gospels that Mark came first is for a simply reason. That reason is what happens when you lay side by side the three "Synoptic" Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These three Gospels have been called "Synoptic," a word which means "seeing together," because they share in common a large amount of material, follow the same basic order, and stand apart from John, whose Gospel is unique among the four. ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: 1a - Intro to the Gospels , Formation of the Gospels , Gospels as History , Study Tips , Synoptic Relationships

Early Divinity in John 5

Many have argued that the idea of Yeshua's divinity was a late development. This is commonly applied to the Fourth Gospel as a principle for detecting layers of sources. What I mean is, people will say the gospel of John was written in layers, by multiple hands. An early and simpler version of the gospel, it is said, did not have the strong theme of Yeshua's divinity. Supposedly Greco-Roman ideas are the source of the divinity doctrine. So as the movement for Yeshua became less Jewish and more Roman, the doctrine developed and the Fourth Gospel underwent several edits and additions. ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Divinity of Yeshua , Formation of the Gospels , Identity of Yeshua

PODCAST: Divinity1

To some people, the idea of Yeshua's divinity was probably something developed late. It must have involved a departure from Jewish thought. It must have been the result of syncretism, mixing pagan notions with the original understanding of Yeshua as a Jewish teacher or as Messiah. But what is the real explanation for the origin the idea of Yeshua's divinity? Divinity1 ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Background to Gospels , Divinity of Yeshua , Formation of the Gospels , Greco-Roman Background , Identity of Yeshua , Judaism Today & Yeshua , Podcasts

"My Son" as Midrash

It's a famous example of what seems to be the unusual, perhaps questionable, use of the Jewish scriptures by the apostles. It occurs in a very noticeable location -- the birth narrative of Yeshua in Matthew. Some parts of the Bible get very little traffic, but the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are pretty much highways and not little goat trails. So people are bound to notice some odd things about Matthew's "this happened in order to fulfill" sayings. One of the two weirdest (there is one that is even weirder) is Matthew 2:15. Is Matthew able to read and understand the Hebrew Bible? Is he guilty of a strange and arbitrary reading simply to justify his belief in Yeshua of Nazareth? Of course the author of Matthew knows what ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Background to Gospels , Detailed Commentary , Formation of the Gospels , Gospel Genres , Hebrew Bible as Testimony , Ideal Israel Theme , Intertextuality in the Gospels , Literary Features

The Return of the PODCAST

The Yeshua in Context podcast is back. You can find it at on the Podcast page. Last week I posted "Intro to Eyewitnesses in the Gospels," a fifteen minute introduction to the idea that the gospels are sourced in the living tradition of eyewitness oral history, which was very active in the early congregations of Yeshua-believers. And yesterday, I posted "Two Mary's," with an inspiring look at Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany. Who were they? How was their witness vital to our understanding of Yeshua? If you want to subscribe on iTunes, search "Yeshua in Context" in the iTunes store (under podcasts). Note that the "old" podcast is still there in iTunes. The old podcast is called "The Yeshua in Context Podcast" and the new one is called ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Disciples & Named Characters , Eyewitnesses , Formation of the Gospels , Podcasts

Q Theory

If you've not read much about "the synoptic problem" (theories about where Matthew, Mark, and Luke came from), this post may not be for you. These are simply some quick notes about Q Theory and Mark Goodacre's case against Q -- and I am persuaded by Goodacre that Q is a myth. Q is an imagined document which scholars think they see in the background of Yeshua-sayings that are shared only by Matthew and Luke (they don't occur in Mark). The Q theory is that Matthew and Luke each independently used Mark and this lost source of sayings which scholars call Q. Let me break that down. The theory is that Matthew did not know Luke and Luke did not know Matthew. The sources they had included Mark and Q (and both ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Background to Gospels , Formation of the Gospels , Synoptic Relationships

VIDEO, Where did the gospels come from?

People make some assumptions based on pious tradition about where the gospels come from. The truth is more interesting. ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Beginners , Disciples & Named Characters , Eyewitnesses , Formation of the Gospels , Gospels as History , Literary Features , Study Tips , Video

Birth of Messiah, Video

Isn't it curious that the oldest gospel, Mark, doesn't include the birth of Messiah stories? Have you considered that the gospels may have been written "backwards"? All of this might help us understand the infancy narratives of the gospels (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2) all the more. They really have an inspiring purpose and seeing evidence of their purpose makes them all the more important. ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Background to Gospels , Birth of Messiah , Divinity of Yeshua , Formation of the Gospels , Video , Virginal Conception

Greece, Rome, Israel #3

And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy him; for they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching. -Mark 11:18 The gospel did not just happen. The events which marked the onset of a new stage in the world's redemption happened in a time and place with three main cultural backdrops. Parts 1 and 2 introduced Greek and Roman influences on these events, both in Yeshua's time and the later time the gospels were written. What about conditions and social structures in Israel itself? What are some basics readers need to know about conditions and groups in Israel? What about Jewish concerns in the times of the evangelists? ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Aims of Yeshua , Background to Gospels , Beginners , Formation of the Gospels , Gentiles , Ideal Israel Theme , Identity of Yeshua , Judaism Today & Yeshua , Law, Torah

Greece, Rome, Israel #2

"Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?" But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why put me to the test? Bring me a coin, and let me look at it." And they brought one. And he said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said to him, "Caesars." Yeshua said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at him. -Mark 12:14-17 What has the gospel to do with Rome? As in the first installment about Greece and Hellenism, we're considering Roman background in the life and message of Yeshua as well as in the time of the evangelists who wrote the gospels ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Background to Gospels , Formation of the Gospels , Gentiles , Greco-Roman Background , Son of God

Greece, Rome, Israel #1

Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth. . . . He said to her, "Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." -Mark 7:26, 27. Our reading of the gospels should take into account three streams of culture. In particular we can says that the times of Yeshua were affected by: (1) the reaction against Hellenism or Greek culture in Israel that had come to the fore in the days of the Maccabees from 165 BCE on, (2) the influence of Rome both for good and bad in the life of Israel, and (3) the struggles of Israelite groups and cultures to define themselves in a changing world. The three cultural streams of the gospels should ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Background to Gospels , Formation of the Gospels , Gentiles , Greco-Roman Background

The Lamp-Measure-Seed-Mustard Sequence, Part 1

Could familiarity with Matthew cause you to miss a powerful sequence of meaning in Mark? Could some of Yeshua's sayings be used in different contexts to mean very different things? Are they multi-use? Mark 4:21-34 is an important sequence of sayings whose meaning in the context of Mark is often obscured by readers who are more familiar with the sayings from Matthew. That is to say, the order in which we read the gospels sometimes affects our interpretation. How does this happen? The different synoptic evangelists (Mark, Matthew, Luke) often include the same sayings in different contexts. The context of the saying often influences interpretation. The modern reader might wonder if: (a) the sayings are all given in arbitrary contexts with the evangelists rarely if ever knowing what context they may have ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Formation of the Gospels , Literary Features , Reading Strategies , Study Tips , Teaching of Yeshua

Tracking Down the Beloved Disciple, Polycrates

This Sunday (July 10), I'm repeating the "Eyewitnesses in the Gospels" seminar here in Atlanta (want to bring it your way?). The last of the five sessions is on the Beloved Disciple and the Fourth Gospel. The entire seminar is based on Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and, to a lesser degree, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple. I've had a number of "Beloved Disciple" articles here (see "The Beloved Disciple: Who is He?" and "The Beloved Disciple in Relation to Peter"). Now, I'm summarizing Bauckham's historical detective work following the trail leading to the identity of the Beloved Disciple. It's a twisted trail sorting through evidence with a number of errors which require explanation. It's fascinating to historically understand how simple the identification of the Beloved Disciple is and ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Disciples & Named Characters , Eyewitnesses , Formation of the Gospels , General

Beginner's Guide to the Gospels #1

One writing project I keep working on in the background is a sort of sourcebook for gospels study. In past mentions of this project I had called it "The Yeshua in Context Sourcebook." I'll probably call it something else by the time it is published. It will likely be an eBook and I may offer a print version as well. Yeshua in Context blog readers will also see much of this content appear on the blog . . . for free. But one day you might want to have it all together in organized form. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, here is a an early article from the upcoming book. Chapter 1.1 - ORDER AND RELATIONSHIPS IN THE GOSPELS Before you get too far in reading and thinking about the gospels -- their history, ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Beginners , Formation of the Gospels , Study Tips

Podcast Transcript: Peter's Footprints

This is the transcript for today's podcast. You can find the Yeshua in Context podcast at the iTunes store or at Recently an archaeology blogger, for whom I have nothing but respect although he is a skeptic when it comes to matters of faith, made a comment on his blog about the gospels being unreliable. He said that we find a pattern in human discourse about major events. Years after the event, people make up apocryphal stories. They often put the stories in the mouth of authority figures to give them more credibility and the stories pass down as if they really happened and were witnessed by important people. This, he said, is what the gospels represent. Maybe there are some genuine stories in there, but most are apocryphal and ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Disciples & Named Characters , Eyewitnesses , Formation of the Gospels , Gospels as History , Podcasts

Papias: Mark, Matthew, John #1

Just some notes related to my absorption of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, in this case about chapter 9, "Papias on Mark and Matthew." Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 330) famously quotes Papias (c. 110) regarding some background to Mark and Matthew. Note that Papias is not correct simply because his comments are old, closer to the time the evangelists wrote. There are many ambiguities in what Papias says and Bauckham critically evaluates the statements rather than talking them as gospel. The main issues include: (1) How can Mark's gospel be from eyewitness testimony (Peter's) and be so different from another eyewitness source (the fourth gospel, thought by Bauckham to be the work of John the elder)? (2) In what way can we make sense of and find support for the idea that ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Eyewitnesses , Formation of the Gospels

Perplexing Resurrection

Luke 24:1-53. When the women showed up at the tomb on Sunday morning, the word Luke uses to describe their emotion is perplexity. When the angels, who seemed to be men, spoke to them, the theme of their communication was remembrance. When two disciples encountered Yeshua along the road, their experience was a mystery. When Yeshua spoke to the Eleven and other disciples gathered, his theme was continuation. Perplexity. Remembrance. Mystery. Continuation. ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Formation of the Gospels , Gospels as History , Resurrection of Yeshua

Chronicling the Formation of the Gospels #2

This is not exactly what I promised would be in Part 2, but these notes are about current decisions I am making in theorizing how the gospels were formed. Note the word current. I'd like to see, as I build on this, how believable it turns out to be. First, I accept the basic order of Mark, then Matthew, then Luke, and then John. ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Formation of the Gospels , General , Gospels as History

The Eyewitness Theory of Gospel Formation #1

I haven't forgotten that I started a series called "Chronicling the Formation of the Gospels." I've just been busy...too busy. I'm reading Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q and Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Soon I plan to read Paul Anderson's The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus. Alongside my "Chronicling the Formation of the Gospels" series, I plan to write a simpler explanation of Bauckham's eyewitness theory. I think there is something solid here which future researchers will not be able to ignore. Bauckham makes some points so well, I would have to think his book will leave a mark on historical Jesus studies and gospels research. What are some of the kinds of observations and questions that lead Richard Bauckham to the eyewitness theory of the formation ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Disciples & Named Characters , Eyewitnesses , Formation of the Gospels , Gospels as History

Chronicling the Formation of the Gospels #1

How did the things we read now in the books of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John get written down in the form we now have them? There are many decisions to make if we try to reconstruct a possible or probably story of gospel transmission. I'll try to make the story interested, not too bogged down with long lists of sources and proofs. I'll keep that kind of writing short and refer the reader to various scholars such as Mark Goodacre, Richard Bauckham, Paul Anderson, and others that I know I will find along the way have added something significant to an understanding of gospel transmission. I'm already leaning against some ways of conceiving gospel transmission. Goodacre has me nearly convinced that Q is a too-convenient scholarly chimera. Bauckham has me ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Formation of the Gospels , General , Gospels as History