A Simple Way to Check Integrity of the Gospels


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

Chances are very high that in its simplest form, literary analysis is part of a everyday personal activity. It happens naturally when mentally breaking down information to understand it better such as the text of a book, magazine article, blog, marketing ads, instructions, maps, etc.[2]

Comparing two or more Gospels is a simple method considering such things as word usage, meaning, consistency, historical accuracy, theme, etc.[3] Fact checking today using the Internet with topical searches can result in finding reliable, unbiased secondary sources such as encyclopedias, bios, historical websites, university library websites, etc.

Four authors of Gospels books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are a target-rich environment for literary analysis to compare and evaluate times, places and circumstances. Texts of antiquity from that era can even be referenced such as works by Jewish historian JosephusCaesar Augustus, and Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus.

Leverage the learning and work of others to save time and effort. For example, Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, better known as just “Westcott & Hort,” spent a lifetime performing in-depth analysis of manuscripts of the Bible.[4]

Know the difference between “evidence” and “facts” and understand the rules for the era and the cultures in which the literary work was written. Big differences may have occurred between today and those of yesteryear where some literary protocols that may have been legitimate for that era are not acceptable practices today, maybe even illegal.

Citing or referencing a literary work had different rules in the age of antiquity where it was permissible to copy from another source to serve as a “witness” meaning it was common practice to copy from another source, even verbatim, without a citation. Abuses of this practice was the focus of Josephus in his work, Against Apion.[5]

A common factor that comes into play with the Gospels is known as “parallel” passages, a legitimate Jewish writing style. Sometimes verbatim, they appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke leading these three to be called the synoptic Gospels.

Parallel passages are cited as alleged credibility issues of the synoptic Gospels. Completely independent, the eyewitness Gospel of John often corroborates the synoptic Gospels making it tough to disregard the information found in the synoptics.

Using the scientific methodology approach, repeating the process can help to gain confidence in the outcome or conclusion. Literary analysis first requires reading what has been written (observation).

Gathering additional information (evidence, research, intuitive analysis) can be use to identify the premise and determine the theme (hypothesis). Internet resources are ideal for this purpose but beware of the sources – not all information is legitimate.

Finally compare information (an assessment) to see if it all stands up to scrutiny (testing, retesting).[6] Obviously, the more knowledgeable about the subject matter, the better the analysis.

Determining the genre of the Gospels may be the biggest call to make – is it a 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.

Understanding the theme helps determines the central idea of the writing. A big clue is the purpose of the author – was the intent to be entertaining, amusing, or enjoyable reading?[7]

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.

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. Non-fictions may also reflect the author’s recollection of witnessing events or facts often influenced by personal experiences.

Is the central theme of a Gospel about a real person by chronicling the birth, life, trial and execution of Jesus of Nazareth in the Judean Roman province – historical? Is the theme intended to teach his 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 Resurrectionreligion?

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, conflicts, 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?

A very close cousin to literary analysis is known as “textual criticism,” another term that seems intimidating and boring…and probably is for most people. For this reason, textual analysis may best be reserved for literary experts who are so inclined.

In the end, the conclusion will be one reached on a personal level, perhaps influenced by opinions and biases, weighed against observations, evaluation and factual accuracy. Are the Gospels credible?


Updated February 5, 2024.

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[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> Reed, Annette Yoshiko. Pseudepigraphy, Authorship, and ‘The Bible’ in Late Antiquity. 2008. p 478. 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> Infomory.com. August 21, 2011 <http://infomory.com/what-is/what-is-literary-analysis> “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment. “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>
[2] Godin. “How to Analyze a Literary Passage: A Step-by-Step Guide.”
[3] Cherran. “What is Literary Analysis?”  Ramlawi, Aisha. “Literary Analysis: Genre/Tone/Mood/Theme.” Prezi.com. 2016 <https://prezi.com/ararehyeyma0/literary-analysis-genretonemoodtheme>
[4] Westcott & Hort Greek / English Interlinear NEW TESTAMENT.  Ed. Ray McIntyre. Westcott & Hort Research Center. n.d. <http://westcotthort.com/books/Westcott_Hort_Interlinear.pdf Westcott & Hort Biographies.”  Westcott and Hort Research Centre. 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. <http://www.westcotthort.com/biographies.html>
[5] Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Trans. and commentary William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. n.d. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false> “Preface.” Reed. Pseudepigraphy, Authorship, and ‘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>
[6] Reade.  “Selecting topics for literary analysis.”   Jenkins. “Literary Analysis as Scientific Method.”  “Introduction to Literary Criticism and Analysis.” National Endowment for the Humanities | EDSITEment.
[7] 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?”  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.”

The Gospels – Just Recycled Material?


Similarities between certain passages of one Gospel found in another, sometimes word for word, are eyebrow-raising characteristics. These characteristics fuel conspiracy theories saying this is evidence of Christian collaborators making up a Messiah story.

Matthew, Mark and Luke – called the Synoptic Gospels – contain “parallel passages” where content similarities typically appear.[1] On full display in the synoptic Gospels is the distinctive Jewish literary practice of grouping content by topic instead of chronologically.[2]

In literary circles of Antiquity, written materials were considered communal property available to be freely used by other literati with or without citations.[3] The Synoptics use of a common source or sources is actually a reflection of legitimate writing protocol of the times.[4] An excellent point of comparison are the major Jewish works written during the same era – Josephus, the Talmud Mishnah, and other New Testament books.[5]

Most authorities agree the Gospel of John is an authentic eyewitness account written independently of the Synoptic Gospels and as such serves as a calibration source.[6] Writing he did not intend to cover all the things Jesus had done, still some critics use John’s omission of events found in the other three Gospels to challenge its credibility.[7]

Luke’s author openly acknowledged using “handed down” information, a practice common to Jewish and other cultures. Rabbi sages “handed down” oral interpretations of the Law over many generations until committed to writing in the Talmud.[8] Josephus wrote that he used expert sources “for the proof of what I say” in support of his writings.[9]

Jewish literary works used quotations as a means to cite sources in a time before footnotes or end notes came into existence.[10] Throughout the New Testament quotations of the Jewish Scripture Septuagint translation can be seen preceded by the phrase “it is written.” Quoting was also a practice also used in the Talmud and by Josephus.[11]

Literary authenticity and integrity, Josephus wrote, could be achieved by following the role model of Moses who took unexciting legal topics and made them meaningful and understandable while not adding or taking anything away.[12] Moses took the source material of God’s Law handed down to him at Mt. Sinai and committed it to writing while interweaving it with factual, interesting Hebrew stories thereby producing a distinct literary work.[13]

Unique qualities found through simple literary analysis are obvious at the beginning of each Gospel.[14] Matthew, written for a Jewish audience, starts the genealogy of Jesus with Abraham. Luke, written to a Gentile audience, worked the genealogy of Jesus backward to Adam.[15]

Mark begins by immediately declaring Jesus to be the Son of God, then ties a prophecy to his introduction of John the Baptist. John’s well-known opening says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[16]

Quantifying the differences through deeper literary analysis, over 35% of the content of Matthew is unique to the Synoptics – not found in Mark or Luke.[17] Nearly 50% of the verses in Luke are not common to either Matthew or Mark.[18] Slightly less than 40% of the content of Mark is not shared by Matthew and Luke while nearly 8% of Mark is completely unique content.[19]

A fascinating characteristic of authenticity is demonstrated through miracles and parables. Contrary to popular perceptions, they have less in common among the Gospels than they have in common.

Of the 35 miracles recorded in the Gospels, only one is common to all four – the feeding of the 5000. One of the most, if not the most, famous miracle is Jesus walking on water and it does not appear in Luke![20]

Only 10 miracles, less than a third, are common to all three Synoptics. Almost half, 16 in all, are uniquely reported by a given author – 3 by Matthew, 2 by Mark, 5 by Luke and 6 by John.

Parables can be tricky to quantify (was it an illustration or a parable?) so the lists vary somewhere in the range of 30.[21] Only 5-7 of the parables are common to all three Synoptics.[22] Instead, about 70% of the parables are unique to either Matthew or Luke alone, Matthew having 10-12 and Luke with 15-17. One parable is exclusive to Mark while John does not recount any.[23]

Gospel authors produced literary works about Jesus of Nazareth that are distinctive yet corroborating. Are the Gospels no more than recycled information or do they meet the standard of literary authenticity?


Updated December 15, 2022.

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


[1] Smith, Ben C. “Gospel manuscripts.” <http://www.textexcavation.com/gospelmanuscripts.html> Gloag, Paton J.  Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Page 5. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595 “Synoptic Gospels.” Theopedia.com. <http://www.theopedia.com/Synoptic_Gospels “The Book of Matthew.” Quartz Hill School of Theology. http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/matthew.htm Mareghni, Pamela. “Different Approaches to Literary Criticism.” <http://web.archive.org/web/20140628042039/http://www.ehow.com/about_5385205_different-approaches-literary-criticism.html >
[2] Reed, Annette Yoshiko.  Pseudepigraphy, Authorship, and ‘The Bible’ in Late Antiquity. Pages 478 – 489. <http://www.academia.edu/1610659/_Pseudepigraphy_Authorship_and_the_Reception_of_the_Bible_in_Late_Antiquity>  Last accessed 9 May 2014.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.  Pages 9, 23-38. <http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008728595>
[3] Josephus, Flavius.  Against Apion.  Book I. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>   “Custom Cheating and Plagiarism essay paper writing service.” <http://exclusivepapers.com/essays/Informative/cheating-and-plagiarism.php>  Cummings, Michael J. “Did Shakespeare Plagiarize?” <http://cummingsstudyguides.net/xPlagiarism.html>
[4] Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Pages 50-51.
[5] “Josephus, Flavius.” JewishEncylopedia.com.  <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8905-josephus-flavius>  Maimonides, Moses.  Mishneh Torah. “Introduction to Mishneh Torah.”  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm>   A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud.  Glossary:  “Mishnah.:  Ed. A. W. Streane.  <http://www.archive.org/stream/translationoftre00streuoft/translationoftre00streuoft_djvu.txt>  Segal, Eliezer.  A Page from the Babylonian Talmud.  “The Mishnah” and “The Gemara (Talmud).” <http://people.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/TalmudPage.html#Page>  Spiro, Ken.  “History Crash Course #39: The Talmud.” Aish.com. 4 Aug. 2001.<http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48948646.html>   Valentine, Carol A. “The Structure of the Talmud Files.” <http://come-and-hear.com/structure.html>  Chase, Jeffrey S. “The Gutenberg Printing Press.” <http://www.cs.duke.edu/~chase/cps49s/press-summary.html>
[6] “Gospel of John.”  Theopedia.com.  <http://www.theopedia.com/Gospel_of_John>  “The Book of John.” Quartz Hill School of Theology. http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/john.htm> Smith, Barry D. “The Gospel of John.”  <http://www.mycrandall.ca/courses/NTIntro/John.htm>
[7] John 20:30.
[8] Maimonides, Moses.  Mishneh Torah.  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm>   Chase. “The Gutenberg Printing Press.”  Josephus.  Against Apion. Book I, #6-7.
[9] Josephus. Against Apion. Book I.
[10] Pearse, Roger, ed. “Tacitus and his manuscripts.”  <http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/tacitus>  “Septuagint.”  Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. <http://books.google.com/books?id=goq0VWw9rGIC&lpg=PA185&ots=D1F_d2-T6T&dq=stipes%2C%20crucifixion&pg=PA185#v=onepage&q=septuagint&f=false>
[11] Josephus.  Against Apion. Book I.  Reed.  Pseudepigraphy, Authorship, and ‘The Bible’ in Late Antiquity.  Chase. “The Gutenberg Printing Press.” Fausset, Andrew R.  “New Testament.”  Fausset Bible Dictionary. <http://classic.studylight.org/dic/fbd>  Irenaeus of Lyons.  Against Heresies. Book III. Chapter XXI.3, also XXI.2.  <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.iv.html>  “Septuagint.”  Septuagint.net. 2014.  <http://septuagint.net>  Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book XII, Chapter II.1-6, 13-1.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=falseThe Babylonian Talmud. Rodkinson translation. Book 4, Tracts Megilla Chapter I. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm>  Benner, Jeff A. “The Great Isaiah Scroll and the Masoretic Text.” <https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/dss/great-isaiah-scroll-and-the-masoretic-text.htm>  Lundberg, Marilyn J. “The Leningrad Codex. <http://www.usc.edu/dept/LAS/wsrp/educational_site/biblical_manuscripts/LeningradCodex.shtml>   “Septuagint.”  Encyclopædia Britannica. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Septuagint>
[12] Josephus.  Antiquities of the Jew. “Preface” #3
[13] Carr, A. The Gospel According to Matthew, Volume I.  Page 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>
[14] “The Four Gospels.” <http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/texts/gospels.htm>
[15] Irenaeus. Against Heresies. Book III.  Chapters I, IX, XXI.   “New Testament.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/6821-gospels-the-four>  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels. Pages ix, 39.
[17] “Matthew.”  Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary.  <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002400.html#T0002442>  “Gospel of Matthew.”  <http://www.religionfacts.com/gospel-matthew>  Carr. The Gospel Accouding to Matthew, Volume I.  Pages XVIII – XIX.  Gloag, Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels.  Pages 32-33.
[18] “Luke, Gospel according to.”  Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002300.html#T0002332>
[19] “Mark, Gospel according to.”  Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002400.html#T0002421>  Swete, Henry Barclay.  The Gospel According to St. Mark, The Greek Text with Notes and Indices.  Pages XIX, LXXIV.<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>
[20] “Luke.”  Easton’s Bible Dictionary.   Ryrie. Charles C., ed.  Ryrie Study Bible.  “The Miracles of Jesus.” 1978. Aune, Eilif Osten. “Synoptic Gospels.” < https://web.archive.org/web/20171214110423/www.bible-basics-layers-of-understanding.com/Synoptic-Gospels.html >
[21] Sween, Don and Nancy.  “Parable.” BibleReferenceGuide.com.  n.d. <http://www.biblereferenceguide.com/keywords/parable.html>
[22] “Parables” Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  <http://www.ccel.org/e/easton/ebd/ebd/T0002800.html#T0002842> “Luke, Gospel according to.”  Easton’s Bible Dictionary.  “Parables.”  International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. <http://www.internationalstandardbible.com/P/parable.html> Ryrie. “The Miracles of Jesus.”  Aune.  “Synoptic Gospels.”
[23] Smith, B. D. “The Gospel of John”, F. 5.3.3.  Sween.  “Parable.” Swete. The Gospel According to St. Mark, The Greek Text with Notes and Indices. Pages LXXIV, 83.  “Luke, Gospel according to.”  Easton’s Bible Dictionary. “Parable.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.  Ryrie. “The Parables of Jesus.”