Uniqueness of Matthew’s Gospel

 

Matthew’s Gospel is surrounded by many questions – who, when, what, how – making it a target rich environment for those who wish to challenge its credibility. Parallel passages, dates, authorship and variation from other Gospels are all called into question.

Authorship of Matthew is not claimed within the Gospel itself. Customarily Matthew is believed, based on sources who lived in very close time proximity, to have been written by one of the 12 Disciples of Jesus for whom the Gospel is named – an eyewitness.[1] Other scholars and skeptics with differing views believe Matthew was written by someone else; is a collection of stories and oral tradition; or is even completely fictitious.[2]

Papyrus fragment P45

Many religion authorities believe Matthew was written sometime between 55-75 AD; other views range from 90-100 AD.[3] All timeframe possibilities are during the first century when some of the original Disciples were still alive as were undoubtedly some from the Sanhedrin body who placed Jesus of Nazareth on trial. Which was written first, Mark or Matthew, is debatable although clearly Matthew is much longer and has much more detail.

Use of common reference materials are evidenced by the parallel passages, sometimes verbatim, appearing on both Gospels as well as in Luke.[4] Still, less than a third of Matthew’s content is common to Mark.[5] Parallel passages that pose an alleged credibility issue, along with the Gospel being unpinned, can both be attributed to legitimate literary protocols of the day.

Copying from another source to serve as a “witness” was a respected form of citation and corroboration. It was common practice to copy from another resource, even verbatim, without a citation. Abuses of this practice by the Greeks were addressed at length by Josephus in Against Apion.[6]

Not penning a work was characteristic Jewish practice for reasons of humility, to avoid bringing fame or attention to the author. Examples of other Jewish works without authorship or identify of the authors include books within the Old Testament or the Tenakh.[7]

Identity, sourcing, timeline and references aside, the measure of authenticity and credibility of the Gospel can be still be evaluated based on assessing its content. Literary analysis and literary criticism are among important scientific methodologies used to assess credibility.

Variation actually enhances authenticity and credibility of Matthew. In the world of investigations, written statements that too closely resemble each other are immediately suspect of deception.[9]

Truthful, credible statements are expected to be consistent with key evidence as well as with other witness statements, yet characteristic variation is most certainly expected. A basic principal:   the more details, the harder to cover a deception whereas deceptive statements lack detail.

“There must, therefore, naturally arise great differences among writers, when they had no original records to lay for their foundation, which might at once inform those who had an inclination to learn, and contradict those that would tell lies…” – Josephus[10]

Distinct diversity from Luke can be seen immediately in Matthew with the genealogy of Jesus listed in reverse order along with some name variations.[11] Slightly more than a third of the content of Matthew is not in common with Luke similarly to Mark…Matthew’s unmatched subject matter is exceptional.[12]

Joseph‘s personal circumstances are exhibited only in Matthew such as his contemplation of divorcing Mary for becoming pregnant by another man. Joseph’s mind was changed by the angel’s visitation message that Mary would fulfill the quoted Isaiah 7:14 prophecy of a virgin birth and instructed Joseph to name the baby “Jesus.”

Next is the exclusive, unusual introduction of the mystic Magi; “His Star;” and King Herod’s treachery – without it, about half of the traditional Christmas Nativity scene would not exist. Any question about “Bethlehem of Judea” being the birthplace of Jesus was addressed by quoting the Micah 5:2 prophecy, its meaning interpreted by none other than Herod’s own Jewish religious experts.

Moving to the crucifixion, burial and the Resurrection, Matthew solely recounts details surrounding the death of Jesus – the earthquake, stones split in two, and tombs being opened with bodies coming back to life.[13]

Precluding several conspiracy claims, Matthew establishes the chain of custody over the body of Jesus – from the crucifixion; burial by a member of the Jewish Council; the Jewish leadership’s request to Pilate to secure the tomb to prevent a false fulfillment of the 3-day Resurrection prophecies; and the unique use of the Greek word koustodia, a company of guards.

Morning of the Resurrection, Matthew includes the lone accounts of several key happenings. Beginning with the angel rolling away the stone from the empty tomb; the earthquake; the proclamation of the angel presenting the empty tomb;  the dereliction of the Guards and their report to the chief priests; and later the resurrected appearance of Jesus to women of Galilee.[14]

Historically, Matthew states Jesus was born during the reign of Judea’s King Herod; cites Herod’s death shortly thereafter; and names secular historical figure Archelaus as ruler of Judea after Herod died.[15] Matthew’s historical attributions combined with Luke’s Nativity account raises the bar of Gospel answerability to the highest degree by establishing the narrow window of five overlapping historical date markers  – the lives of Augustus, Herod, and Quirinius; the Roman census and “His Star.”

Much of the details of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth are found only in Matthew.  The author recounts three miracles and at least 10 parables that do not appear in any other Gospel.[16]

One of the most famous teachings of Jesus unique to Matthew is the famed “Sermon on the Mount” including the nine verses of Beatitudes, all beginning with “Blessed are…” The quoted sermon covers 106 verses through three chapters – detail requiring an eyewitness..[17] 

Perhaps the biggest clue to the divine nature of Jesus is quoted in Matthew. Jesus spoke from his personal perspective as One who, watching Jerusalem throughout its history, often longed to provide protection for its people even though they killed the messengers God sent to them. The author of Luke chose to include Matthew’s quoted statement of Jesus in his own investigative report:[18]

MT 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (NKJV)

Extensive, unique details in Matthew – narratives, quotes, parables, miracles and prophecies – places the Gospel’s credibility in a most vulnerable position. If any details were deemed to be untrue by other contemporaries, they presented no evidence that refutes it.

Parts of Matthew were corroborated by the independent eyewitness account of John’s Gospel; certain content in Luke’s investigative Gospel; as well as secular history. Considering the customary literary protocols, the allegation of literary misconduct becomes a non-issue.

What remains to assess the credibility of Matthew is its believability. Are the Gospel’s detailed accounts fabrications… or do the unique details in Matthew indicate truthfulness and credibility?

 

Updated October 12, 2022.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Luke 13:34. Luke 13:34. Papias. “Papias.” Fragment I & VI. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.vii.html>  Gloag, Paton James. Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. p 168.  <https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.090193322;view=1up;seq=25>  Irenaeus of Lyons.  Against Heresies. Book III, Chapter I.1, IX, XXI.3.  <http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Heresies>  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, 1902. p XIX. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[2] Fausset, Andrew R.  Fausset Bible Dictionary. 1878. “Matthew, The Gospel According to.”  <http://classic.studylight.org/dic/fbd/view.cgi?number=T2722>  Didymus, John Thomas.  “The Biblical Evidence For a Conspiracy Theory of the Resurrection.”  2010.  <http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Biblical-Evidence-For-a-Conspiracy-Theory-of-the-Resurrection&id=4205050>  “New Testament – Historical Books.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament>  Smith, Ben C. The Synoptic Project. 2018. <http://www.textexcavation.com/synopticproject.html>  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp. 4-5, 48, 63-64, 106-108.  “Gospel of Matthew.” Theopedia.com.  “The Lives.” Quartz Hill School of Theology.  “New Testament – Historical Books.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament>  Kirby, Peter.  “Gospel of Matthew.”  EarlyChristianWritings.com. 2018. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/matthew.html>  Vick, Tristan D. “Dating the Gospels: Looking at the Historical Framework.”  Carr, A. The Gospel According to Matthew, Volume I. 1881. pp XVIII – XIX. <http://books.google.com/books?id=ZQAXAAAAYAAJ&dq=Swete%2C%20The%20Gospel%20According%20to%20St.%20Matthew&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q=Swete,%20The%20Gospel%20According%20to%20St.%20Matthew&f=false>  Smith, B. D. “The Gospel of Matthew.”
[3] “Gospel of Matthew.” Theopedia.com. n.d. <https://www.theopedia.com/gospel-of-matthew>  “The Lives.”  Quartz Hill School of Theology. n.d. <http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/matthew.htm> Vick, Tristan D. “Dating the Gospels: Looking at the Historical Framework.” Advocatus Atheist. 2010. <http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2010/01/dating-gospels-looking-at-historical.html>  Shamoun, Sam. “The New Testament Documents and the Historicity of the Resurrection.” Answering-Islam.org. 2013.  <http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/documents.htm>  Kirby, Peter. Index. EarlyChristianWritings.com. 2018. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/index.html> Smith, Barry. D. “The Gospel of Matthew.”  n.d. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/Matt.htm>  Etinger, Judah. Foolish Faith. Chapter 6.  2012.  <http://www.foolishfaith.com/book_chap6_history.asp> Shamoun, Sam. “The New Testament Documents and the Historicity of the Resurrection.” 2013.  <http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/documents.htm>  “Paprus Fragments P45.” Bible Resource Pages. photo. early 3rd century. <http://katapi.org.uk/BibleMSS/P45.htm
[4] Fausset, Andrew R.  Fausset Bible Dictionary. 1878. “New Testament.”  <http://classic.studylight.org/dic/fbd/view.cgi?number=T2722>
[5] “Matthew. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. 1897. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002400.html#T0002443>  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, The Greek Text with Notes and Indices. p. XXIV.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. p. 33 <https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.090193322;view=1up;seq=25>
[6] Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book I.1-2, 4-6, 10, 17, 19, 23, 26. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. “Preface.”  Reed, Annette Yoshiko.  Pseudepigraphy, Authorship, and ‘The Bible’ in Late Antiquity. 2008. p 478.  <http://www.academia.edu/1610659/_Pseudepigraphy_Authorship_and_the_Reception_of_the_Bible_in_Late_Antiquity>  “Custom Cheating and Plagiarism essay paper writing service.” ExclusivePapers.com.  n.d.  <http://exclusivepapers.com/essays/Informative/cheating-and-plagiarism.php>  Cummings, Michael J. “Did Shakespeare Plagiarize?” Cummings Study Guides. 2003. <http://cummingsstudyguides.net/xPlagiarism.html>
[7] Reed.  Pseudepigraphy, Authorship, and ‘The Bible’ in Late Antiquity. p 476-479.  “Hebrew Bible: Torah, Prophets and Writings.” MyJewishLearning.com. <https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hebrew-bible>  Benner, Jeff, Ancient Hebrew Research Center. 2018. “The Authors of the Torah.” <http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/articles_authors.html>
[8] Carr. The Gospel Accouding to Matthew, Volume I. p XVIII – XIX.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. p 5. “Gospel of Matthew.” Theopedia.com. “Jesus.”  “The Book of Matthew.” Quartz Hill School of Theology.  Mareghni, Pamela. “Different Approaches to Literary Criticism.” 2014. <http://web.archive.org/web/20140628042039/http://www.ehow.com/about_5385205_different-approaches-literary-criticism.html>  Preble, Laura. “Traditional Literary Criticism.” 2014. <http://www.ehow.com/info_8079187_approaches-literary-criticism.html>
[9] Sapir, Avinoam. LSI Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation. Basics and advance courses. <http://www.lsiscan.com/id37.htm>  “Scientific Content Analysis (SCAN).” Personal Verification LTD. 2018. <http://www.verify.co.nz/scan.php>
[10] Josephus. Against Apion. Book I.5.
[11] Matthew 1; Luke 3. Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. Book III. Chapter I.1, IX, XXI.3. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. n.d.  <http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Heresies>  “New Testament – Historical Books.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp ix, 39.
[12] “Matthew.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. n.d. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002400.html#T0002442>  “Luke.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. n.d. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002300.html#T0002331> Carr. The Gospel Acco rding to Matthew, Volume I. pp XVIII – XIX. Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.  p 32-33, 38-42.  Sween, Don and Nancy. “Parable.” BibleReferenceGuide.com. n.d. <http://www.biblereferenceguide.com/keywords/parable.html>  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, 1902. p XVII, XXIV.  Fairchild, Mary. “37 Miracles of Jesus.” ThoughtCo. 2017. <https://www.thoughtco.com/miracles-of-jesus-700158Ryrie Study Bible.  Ed. Ryrie Charles C.  Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “The Miracles of Jesus.” Aune, Eilif Osten. “Synoptic Gospels.” Bible Basics. 2013. <www.bible-basics-layers-of-understanding.com/Synoptic-Gospels.html>
[13] Matthew 27.
[14] Net.bible.org. Matthew 27:65 Greek text.  “koustodia <2892>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2892.html>
[15] Matthew 2; CR Luke 1.
[16] Carr. The Gospel Accouding to Matthew. Volume I. pp XVIII – XIX.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp 32-33. Gloag, The Synoptic Gospels. pp 38-42. Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  F. 5.3.3.  2015. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/John.htm>  Sween. “Parable.”  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark. pp. XIX, XXIII. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Luke.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary.  “Parable.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 2018. <http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/P/parable.html>  “The Parables of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible. “The Miracles of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible.  Fairchild, Mary. “37 Miracles of Jesus.” ThoughtCo. 2017. <https://www.thoughtco.com/miracles-of-jesus-700158>
[17] Matthew 5-7. CR Luke 6:20-22.
[18] Mathew 24; Luke 13:34.

Luke – the Investigative Reporter

 

P75, circa 175-225 AD.

For centuries many have endeavored to prove or disprove the Gospel of Luke’s account about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Some have focused on the integrity of the content, others on the identity of the unnamed author. Debate will continue; however, there is substantial evidence to consider.

Among the first to document the identity of the author of the Gospel was Irenaeus, a student of Polycarp who was in turn a pupil of John, one of the original 12 Disciples of Jesus.[1] Irenaeus identified the author as the Gentile doctor named Luke, the inseparable traveling companion of the Apostle Paul mentioned several times in New Testament books.[2] Logic is a big factor – educated as a doctor, a source just one generation removed from the Disciple John, how likely is it that Irenaeus was erroneous?

Credibility of a statement, this Gospel included, can be determined regardless of the identity of the author. In this case, the Gospel author’s first defining point of credibility is where his investigative letter is addressed to a specific person.

Named as Theophilus, this is the same person to whom was written the Book of Acts establishing both accountability and consistency. Josephus identified Theophilus as the next High Priest after Jonathan circa 37-40 AD.[3] The question is whether these are the same person?

Very clearly the author describes the basis of his investigation:

LK 1:1-4 “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (NIV)

Not himself an eyewitness, instead Luke identifies the sources of his investigation, noted as “many,” being original eyewitnesses and he personally investigated their validity. Evidence can be seen in the quotes and reference parallels found in the older Gospels of Matthew and Mark and corroborating information by John.

From a different perspective, the author’s omissions of certain witness accounts and miracles that are mentioned in the other Gospels.[4] Nearly half of Luke’s content is unique in which 6 miracles are reported, including the resurrection of a dead boy, and 15-17 parables (was it an illustration or a parable?).[5]

Included, too, are the exclusive accounts of the birth circumstances of John the Baptist; the identity of his father, Zachariah and mother, Elizabeth, and her role with Mary during their pregnancies; the angel Gabriel with his messages from God delivered separately to Zachariah and Mary, and Mary’s hymn of praise.

Found only in Luke and Acts are the two Greek words, apographo and apographe – a verb and a noun – cited as the motivation for Joseph to take his nearly 9-month pregnant wife, Mary, to Bethlehem 90 miles away. Neither Greek word translates to the equivalent English word of “census,” often imprecisely used in Matthew’s Christmas Nativity story.[6]

Seven government rulers are identified in Luke, all corroborated in secular history including Caesar Augustus , Tiberius Caesar, Judean King Herod, and Tetrarchs Herod and Philip.[7] Two “governors,” Quirinius and Pilate, were both identified using the exclusive Greek word hegemoneuo, meaning to act with authority as governors, though not necessarily official “governors.”[8]

Two specific crucifixion scenarios are found only in the Luke’s Gospel. Quoted is the conversation between the criminals being crucified with Jesus. Upon his death, distraught witnesses reacted by “beating their breasts” in severe mourning.

Distinctively identified and quoted are Resurrection witnesses. Most notable is Cleopas with his traveling partner heading home to Emmaus after being with some of the Disciples that weekend.[9] Unrecognized, Jesus joined them walking down the road and asked what they were discussing so intently. Cleopas is quoted explaining the sequence of events involving the encounter by the women of Galilee with angels at the empty tomb who proclaimed Jesus was alive and how the empty tomb was confirmed by other unnamed witnesses.[10]

Corroborating John’s eyewitness Gospel account of the gathering of Disciples and followers in the locked room that Sunday evening, Luke adds a distinguishing depiction of events. Cleopas and his partner had rejoined the gathering telling of their encounter with the resurrected Jesus and, in turn, they were told Jesus had also appeared to Simon (Peter).

Terrified is how the excited group encounter is described by Luke when Jesus suddenly appeared in the locked room. Thinking they were seeing a ghost, Jesus calmed their fears saying “Do you have anything here to eat?”[11] Jesus then ate some fish to prove he was not a ghost.

Omitted is key information which could otherwise enhance the Resurrection account if the author had chosen to do so. Missing is Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus and John running with Peter to see the empty tomb, both reported events by other Gospels that astounding morning. One possible reason for the omissions is revealed in Cleopas’ statement.

Cleopas ended his witness statement at the point when he departed for home that Sunday morning – before anyone had reported seeing the resurrected Jesus. Luke had to be aware of Mary Magdalene’s encounter with resurrected Jesus through his investigation, by knowing Paul, contacts with the Disciples and interviews of other witnesses.[12] The omission is a big clue.

Only twice in the entire Gospel of Luke is Mary Magdalene mentioned.[13] She is one of the three named women generally reported to have run back from the empty tomb to tell the Disciples of their experience. Just once previously in Luke, Mary Magdalene was identified as the one from whom Jesus expelled seven demons early in his ministry.

No statements are specifically attributed to Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Luke and therein lies the potential reason for the omission. If Luke did not have direct access to her as an eyewitness source, as such he chose not to include the secondhand account.

Likewise are similar reasons for not identifying the traveling partner of Cleopas and omitting John running with Peter to see the empty tomb – neither were available witnesses to the author. (In his own eyewitness Gospel, John identifies himself as the “other disciple” who joined the race to the tomb.)[14]

Forthright acknowledgements, exclusive specific details, omissions of information seen in other Gospels; corroboration by secular history; named witnesses; quotes; lack of personal opinions or injections; and ignored opportunities to embellish – all are hallmarks of a straightforward, true investigative report. What then do these characteristics say about the validity of Luke’s Gospel authorship and an investigative account?

 

Updated November 20, 2022.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Schaff, Philip. “Introductory Note to Irenæus Against Heresies.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. n.d. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://m.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.i.html Schaff, Philip. “Introduction Note to the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.” Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. n.d. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://m.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.iv.i.html Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies. Book III, Chapters I.1, X.1, XIII.3, XIV.1, XIV.1, XIV.2 quoting Luke 1:2, XIV.3, XV.1, 3, XXIII.1. Philip Schaf, ed. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Volume I. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 2005. <http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Heresies
[2] Colossians 4; Philemon 1; 2 Titus 4. Irenaeus, Heresies. Book III, Chapter XIV.1.  Aherne Cornelius. “Gospel of Saint Luke.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 9. 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09420a.htm>
[3] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVIII, Chapter V.3, Book XX, Chapter VIII.5 & 7; Book XVII, Chapter IV.2; Book XVIII, Chapter V.3; Book XIX, Chapter VI.2; Book XX, Chapter IX.7. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  CR Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter IV.2.  “Theophilus.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <https://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14364-theophilus>
[4] Swete, Henry Barclay. The Gospel According to St. Mark,  pp. xxxvix – xl, LXX, LXXII, LXXIV-LXXV. 1902. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of Mark.”  Crandall University. n.d. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/Mark.htm> “Introductions to Matthew.” Ryrie Study Bible. Ed. Ryrie Charles C.  Trans. New American Standard. 1978. “Introductions to Matthew.” Ryrie Study Bible. “Introduction to the Book of Mark.” Ryrie Study Bible. “Introduction to the Book of Luke.”&Ryrie Study Bible.  “New Testament.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11498-new-testament>  “gospel.” ReligionFacts.com. 2016. <http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/texts/gospels.htm>  Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp 45, 204.. 1895. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>
[5] Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. pp 38-42. 1895. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595> Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  F. 5.3.3.  Crandall University. 2015. <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/John.htm Sween, Don and Nancy. “Parable.” BibleReferenceGuide.com. n.d. <http://www.biblereferenceguide.com/keywords/parable.html Sween. “Parable.”  Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, pp. LXXIV, 83. 1902. <https://books.google.com/books?id=WcYUAAAAQAAJ&lpg=PA127&ots=f_TER300kY&dq=Seneca%20centurio%20supplicio%20pr%C3%A6positus&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>  “Luke.” Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary. 3rd Edition.  Christian Classics Ethereal Library. n.d. <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002300.html#T0002331>  “Parable.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.  2018. <http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/P/parable.html> “The Parables of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible. “The Miracles of Jesus.” Ryrie Study Bible. Fairchild, Mary. “37 Miracles of Jesus.” ThoughtCo. 2017. <https://www.thoughtco.com/miracles-of-jesus-700158
[6] Luke 2; Acts 5. Net.bible.org. Greek text. “aprographe <582>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d.  <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0582.html>  “apographo <583>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/0583.html>  The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson. 1850.  <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=census&f=false
[7] Luke 2, 3. Net.bible.org. Luke 2:1 footnote #5 and Greek text. “hegemoneuo <2230>” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible. Josephus. Antiquities. Book VIII, Chapter XV; Book X, Chapter IV; Book XIV, Chapter IX, & XII; Book XVIII, Chapter VI.  Josephus, Flavius. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #9, 17. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false Josephus, Flavius. Wars of the Jews. Book I, Chapter XXVII. The Complete Works of Josephus. Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Josephus, Flavius.  Against Apion. Book II, #22. The Complete Works of Josephus.  Trans. William Whitson. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> “Pontius Pilate.” Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering. 2014. <http://www.livius.org/pi-pm/pilate/pilate01.htm> “legate.”  Encyclopædia Britannica. 2018. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/legate-Roman-official>
[8] Net.bible.org. Luke 2:1 footnote #5 and Greek text. “hegemon <2232>.” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible.  n.d. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2230.html>  Josephus. Antiquities. Book VIII, Chapter XV, Book X, Chapter IV; Book XIV, Chapter IX, X, XII; Book XVIII, Chapter VI; Book XX, Chapter XVIII.  Josephus. The Life of Flavius Josephus. #9, 17.  Josephus. Wars. Book I, Chapter XXVII.  Josephus. Against Apion. Book II, #22.
[9] John 19. Luke 24:18 footnote Ryrie Study Bible.  “Cleopas.” Bible-history.com. n.d. <http://www.bible-history.com/links.php?cat=43&sub=1173&cat_name=Bible+Names+A-G&subcat_name=Cleopas>
[10] Sapir, Avinoam. LSI Laboratory for Scientific Interrogation, Inc. n.d. <http://www.lsiscan.com/index.htm>  “SCAN – Scientific Content Analysis (Statement Analysis).” Advanced Polygraph. 2011. <http://www.advancedpolygraph.com.au/scan.htm>
[11] NET, NIV, NLT. Luke 24. CR Mark 16.
[12] 2 Timothy 4; Philemon 1; Colossians 4.
[13] Luke 8, 24.
[14] Luke 24; John 20. Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  Fonck, Leopold.  “Gospel of St. John.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia.  Volume 8. New York:  Robert Appleton Company.  1910. New Advent. 2014. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08438a.htm>  Kirby, Peter. “Gospel of John.” EarlyChristianWritings.com. 2014. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/john.html> “The Book of John.”  Quartz Hill School of Theology. 2017. <http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/john.htm>  “Gospel of John.”  Theopedia.com. Encyclopedia of biblical Christianity. n.d. <http://www.theopedia.com/Gospel_of_John>

A Simple Way to Check Integrity of the Gospels

 

Integrity of the Gospels, for many, is the first step in accepting its believability. Checking the integrity of the Gospels and its accounts can be as simple as comparing one Gospel account to another, a process known as “literary analysis.”[1]

Sounding complicated and boring, even intimidating – it is not! Chances are, literary analysis in its simplest form, is part of a normal routine personal activity. It happens naturally when reading a text such as books, magazine articles, Internet blogs, marketing ads, instructions, maps, etc. and mentally breaking it down to understand it better.[2] Almost anyone can do it at a basic level…and it can be fascinating.

In the case of the Gospels, literary analysis can be as simple as comparing two or more Gospels for such things as word usage, meaning, consistency, historical accuracy, theme, etc.[3] Performing any type of comparisons or cross references is a basic literary analysis technique.

A very close cousin to literary analysis is known as “textual criticism,” another term that seems intimidating and boring…and it probably is for most people. This technique is probably best reserved only for literary experts who are so inclined.

Understanding the theme is a key component by determining the central idea of the writing.[4] For the Gospels, is the theme intended to chronicle the birth, life, trial and execution of Jesus in the Judean Roman province – historical? Is the theme intended to teach a message of love and forgiveness – philosophical? Or perhaps, is the theme intended to convey a belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah exemplified by fulfillment of prophecies and Resurrection – salvation?

Determining the genre of the Gospels is key – are the Gospels fiction or non-fiction? Consider if the content is about real people, places and events (non-fiction) vs. content that is an invented story (fiction) written often for philosophical or entertainment purposes. To help figure this out, a reader can rely on some commonly recognized literary characteristic guidelines.

Fictions involve characters who are not real although they could believably be real people with resemblances to real persons. As a setting, the work may include real places, periods and events, but the story is always imaginary, artificial, not real. A big clue is the purpose of the author – was the intent to be entertaining, amusing, or enjoyable reading?[5]

Non-fictions, on the other hand, are written with the intention to be informative about real people, places or events based on historical, geographical or biographical facts. The central figure of the Gospels is Jesus – was he a real historical person? Non-fictions may also reflect the author’s recollection of witnessing events or facts often influenced by personal experiences.[6]

Characters in the story:  who are they – their gender, background, age, personalities, strengths and weaknesses, etc.? What did these characters say or how did they behave in various situations such as adversity, conflict, competition, challenges, interaction with others, etc.? Does it ring true – are their behaviors under the various circumstances what is to be expected by a normal person?

By now, natural investigative curiosity has kicked in…that urge to verify historical, geographical and biographical information to see if it is historically accurate.[7] In the case of the Gospels, was there a conspiratorial effort requiring coordination between four authors, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Gospels works of antiquity are multiplied by a factor of four authors written under varying times, places and circumstances thus setting direct answerability to the highest level.

Fact checking is very simple today using topical searches on the Internet to find reliable, unbiased secondary sources such as encyclopedias, historical websites, university library websites, etc. Texts of antiquity can even be referenced via the Internet such as by Jewish historian JosephusCaesar Augustus , and Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus. The more knowledgeable about the subject matter, the better the analysis.

Performing literary analysis and literary criticism of the Gospels are a form of the scientific methodology. First, reading what has been written (observation); then gathering information (evidence, research, intuitive analysis) to identify the premise, determining the theme (hypothesis); and finally performing an assessment to see if it all stands up to scrutiny (testing, retesting).[8]

Using a scientific methodology approach allows for repeating the process to gain confidence in the outcome or conclusion. For some, a conclusion one way or the other about the integrity of the Gospels may come quickly; for many it will likely take longer.

In the end, the conclusion will be one reached on a personal level perhaps influenced by opinions, even biases weighed against observations, evaluation and factual accuracy.[9] Are the Gospels fictional or non-fictional? If they are found to be non-fictional, then the bigger question becomes:  is the central message of the Gospels believable?

 

Updated November 12, 2022.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Jenkins, Rob. “Literary Analysis as Scientific Method.”  The Chronicles of Higher Education. 2012. <http://www.chronicle.com/blogs/onhiring/literary-analysis-as-scientific-method/30565>  Godin, Katherine. “How to Analyze a Literary Passage: A Step-by-Step Guide.” Study.com. 2019. <http://study.com/academy/lesson/how-to-analyze-a-literary-passage-a-step-by-step-guide.html>
[2] Godin. “How to Analyze a Literary Passage: A Step-by-Step Guide.”
[3] Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?” Infomory.com.  August 21, 2011 <http://infomory.com/what-is/what-is-literary-analysis>   Ramlawi, Aisha. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.”
[4] Reade, Dan.  “Selecting topics for literary analysis.” Sophia.org. 2017. <https://www.sophia.org/tutorials/selecting-topics-for-literary-analysis>   Ramlawi,. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.”
[5] Ramlawi. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.”  Prabhat S. “Difference Between Fiction and Non fiction.” 2011. DifferenceBetween.net. <http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-fiction-and-non-fiction>   Cherran.  “What is Literary Analysis?”
[6] “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment. <http://edsitement.neh.gov/sites/edsitement.neh.gov/files/worksheets/Critical%20Ways%20of%20Seeing%20The%20Adventures%20of%20Huckleberry%20Finn%20in%20Context%20-%20Introduction%20to%20Literary%20Criticism%20and%20Analysis.pdf> Cherran. “What is Literary Analysis?”
[7] “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment.
[8] Reade.  “Selecting topics for literary analysis.”   Jenkins. “Literary Analysis as Scientific Method.”  “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment.
[9] Cherran. “What is Literary Analysis?”