Articles Comments

Yeshua in Context >> Gospels as History

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

Passover and Yeshua's Last Week (Based on John)

What happened when in the week leading up to the crucifixion of Yeshua? What if we ask this question of the Gospel of John instead of the more common approach of following Mark-Matthew-Luke (the synoptic gospels, as they are called)? It's tempting to turn to Mark or Matthew for information, but suppose we simply follow the Fourth Gospel to see what we can learn? Let me begin with just a brief note on my appreciation for the accuracy of the Fourth Gospel on matters related to the Temple and feasts of the Torah. I first began to consider the possibility that John was more precise that the synoptic gospels at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in New Orleans in 2009. Paul Anderson (The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus) ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Cross , Gospels as History , Last Supper , Passion Narratives , Passover , Temple and Torah

REVIEW: Anthony Le Donne's Historical Jesus

Historical Jesus: What can we know and how can we know it?, Anthony Le Donne, Eerdmans, 2011. This short and very readable volume is valuable but flawed. The reason I say that: great information on historical "knowing" and application to historical Jesus studies, but poor application to the Jesus story once Le Donne turns his attention to it. First, the part I think is good. When it comes to historical knowledge, how we know history, Le Donne explains in layman terms why modernism overreached. Modernism was too optimistic in some ways and too skeptical in others. It assumed we could find "the facts, just the facts" and view history objectively, in a one to one correspondence. All knowledge, even memory, is interpretation, says Le Donne, in what I deem to be a ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Ascension of Yeshua , Book Reviews , Gospels as History , Hebrew Bible as Testimony

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

The Beloved Disciple: Who Is He?

He is the "Where's Waldo?" of the fourth gospel. He is a conspicuously unnamed disciple in several scenes in the gospel of John (and yet I categorize this post under "Disciples & Named Characters"). You will find him in 1:35-40; 13:23-26; 19:25-27; 19:35; 20:2-10; 21:2; 21:7; 21:20-24; and possibly 18:15-16. Who is this guy? Why is he so important (and I'm not talking Dan Brown material here!)? This weekend (on June 5, 2011), I'm leading a seminar, "Eyewitnesses in the Gospels," based on Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. I'm available to bring this 5-hour seminar to your group. The Beloved Disciple is one of many intriguing characters we need to get to know. ... Read entire article >>

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

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

Why Are Some Characters Anonymous in Mark?

Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses is my preoccupation as I prepare for the June 5 "Eyewitnesses in the Gospels" seminar here in Atlanta. Check here for information and I hope a few of you reading this can come join us. The Passion narrative in Mark (probably chapters 11 and 14-16, says Bauckham) likely comes from an earlier written or oral source that Mark is using. Several characters in this section are oddly anonymous. They seem like the sort of people who would be named as eyewitnesses. These unusual anonymous persons include: (1) The owner of a certain donkey in 11:1-6 (on the theory that the lending of the donkey was pre-arranged). (2) Possibly the same man was the owner of the upper room for the Last Supper in 14:13-15. (3) A certain woman ... Read entire article >>

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

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

Jewish Jesus

If you prefer listening, you can listen to the podcast here (or subscribe to "Yeshua in Context" on iTunes). I read an interview with a scholar recently in which he talked about the patronizing concept of the Jewishness of Jesus. I'm not precisely sure what he had in mind as the interview did not get specific enough on this point and I have not read enough of this scholar's work to be sure what opinions he holds. I do know one complaint he had: people who say their historical presentation of Jesus is a Jewish Jesus and then proceed to explain how Jesus is radically different from their notion of the Judaism of his time. He seemed to be ready to dismiss the value of speaking of the Jewish Jesus completely, and ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Background to Gospels , Gospels as History , Judaism Today & Yeshua , Temple and Torah

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

Birth Issues

This is a transcript for today's "Yeshua in Context Podcast." Note that I never recorded and posted last week's podcast on "Yeshua's Burial." Life had other plans. I should and will record the "Yeshua's Burial" podcast at some point. Meanwhile, later today, listen for "Birth Issues" on iTunes in the "Yeshua in Context Podcast" or at Only two out of four gospels have birth narratives about Yeshua. And the two birth narratives we have are so very different. They agree on major points, twelve of them, which I will list, but they are so different in other ways. It has often been said, and I think this is valid, that the gospel tradition developed backwards: the Passion and Resurrection narratives were first. Then the miracles, deeds, and sayings traditions developed. ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Answering Objections , Birth of Messiah , Divinity of Yeshua , General , Gospels as History , Virginal Conception

Birth Narratives: What Matthew and Luke Have in Common

If you've read and compared the Matthean and Lucan birth narratives and if you've read much secondary literature, you know that from the perspective of historical inquiry there are problems. I commend the view of Luke Timothy Johnson in The Historical Jesus: Five Views on matters of the gospel tradition and historical research. With the various problems the birth narratives present to us, it is reassuring to consider the common elements in Matthew and Luke's accounts, which suggest a tradition that pre-dated both of them. Fitzmeyer gives a suprisingly detailed list of the doubly attested traditions of Yeshua's birth and some of these elements may surprise you: ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Answering Objections , Birth of Messiah , Gospels as History , Identity of Yeshua

Passover - Last Supper - Crucifixion, #2

In Part 1, we talked about the discrepancy between Mark and John regarding the day on which Yeshua was crucified and whether the Last Supper was a Passover Seder or not. I will explain this again briefly below a different way. I should repeat that this problem is well-known in New Testament studies and if it is new to you, please don't think I made it up or "discovered" it. I said there we have three basic options: (1) decide Mark is right and John wrong (Maurice Casey does this in Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel), (2) decide John is right and Mark wrong (McKnight in Jesus and His Death and Brown in The Death of the Messiah, Vol. 2), or (3) harmonize them in some way (I used to follow ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Gospels as History , Last Supper , Passover

Passover - Last Supper - Crucifixion, #1

This is an excerpt from a post at Messianic Jewish Musings where I preface these notes and conclude them with some thoughts about the problem of finding discrepancies in the gospel accounts. If you'd like to read the fuller version, click here. The Last Supper Was / Wasn't a Passover Seder To keep things simple, I am only comparing Mark and John's accounts here. Matthew, Luke, and Paul follow Mark mainly (there is complexity overlooked in that statement, though, since Luke is influenced by John in some way-see Fitzmeyer's commentary on Luke or Paul Anderson's study on The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus for more about this). ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Gospels as History , Last Supper , Passover

Understanding Yeshua's Temple Protest Action

The Temple protest action of Yeshua (a.k.a. the Temple cleansing, Mark 11:15-19) is poorly understood because few consider the details of this narrative and place Yeshua's actions in the context of the Judaism of his time and the context of the Temple of Herod and the way it was run by the powerful Temple state. Mark's account is the best of all four gospels to help us reconstruct what happened. This incident is of great importance, probably being what sealed Yeshua's doom in the eyes of the Temple state and Rome. We should read Yeshua's actions in the giant Temple complex as a commotion, not bringing the whole Temple activity to a standstill. Yeshua acted alone and did not ask his disciples to participate. In the comments that follow, I ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Aims of Yeshua , Background to Gospels , Enactments and Symbolic Actions , Gospels as History , Temple and Torah

"Yeshua (Jesus) is Just another Religious Figure"

In the category, "Answering Objections," I will address common reasons people either deflect serious consideration of the identity of Yeshua or deny that he has any relevant identity for them or for humanity. If you are not religious, the idea of some great importance being attached to the figure of Yeshua might seem ludicrous. Religious figures (Buddha, Mohammed, Zeus, Krishna, Israel's God) are a dime a dozen. Why should Yeshua command any special inquiry or attention? If you are religious and, in fact, Christian, the same question may be at the back of your thoughts. Are we overemphasizing this guy from Galilee? If you are religious and not Christian or Messianic Jewish, you may be absolutely convinced that Yeshua is not worthy of such devotion, study, and faith. So, is Yeshua just another ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Answering Objections , Beginners , Gospels as History , Identity of Yeshua

Simon of Cyrene, Why You Should Know Him

We've already introduced the idea that some characters in the gospels are named because they became eyewitnesses, telling and retelling their story, in the early Yeshua community. See "Cleopas, Why You Should Know Him" under the "Eyewitnesses" category at the right. This helpful way of looking at named characters in the gospels as all thanks to Richard Bauckham and his book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Simon of Cyrene is interesting for several reasons. One of them is that Mark also names his sons, Alexander and Rufus (15:21), while Matthew (27:32) and Luke 23:26) do not. What could be the reason? ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Disciples & Named Characters , Eyewitnesses , Gospels as History , Spectacular Commentary

Cleopas, Why You Should Know Him

A strange thing happens at the end of Luke's gospel (several strange things, in fact). Yeshua, unrecognizable even by his disciples, walks with two of them on a road to Emmaus. Which two? Only one is named: Cleopas. Why is only one of them named? And what else do we know about Cleopas? Here is where we get into some fascinating material from Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Cleopas is perhaps the most interesting case. And this evidence is the kind of simple, memorable material to silence skeptics who doubt completely that the story of Yeshua has a solid historical basis. ... Read entire article >>

Filed under: Disciples & Named Characters , Eyewitnesses , Gospels as History , Spectacular Commentary