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Introduction to the New Testament (GS #1)

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Gospels Study – Part 1 

I.                   The Nature of the Gospels

In the gospels we encounter a litereture that raises questions. They are true and there is truth to be accessed.

A.    Challenges in Approaching the Gospels

1.      The “gap” between Jesus and the presentation of the gospels

a.        The gospels were not written until over twenty years after Jesus’ death.

b.       The evangelists all wrote in Greek for mostly urban audiences who were much different from the first Aramaic-speaking followers of Jesus in rural Galilee. (where the writers faithful….did they embellish the narrative…were the historical details)

c.       While Jesus seemed reluctant to make widespread claims about himself, the evangelists were committed to spreading faith in Jesus.

2.      The complexity of the materials in the gospels themselves

a.       Comparison with the Pauline epistles

(Direct access to Paul he wrote his letters…..places and experiences….)

(Gospels do not give us that immediate access….written by others)

(Narative does not give us the….gospels are not directly didactic)

b.      The question of the nature of the gospels

(What kind of evidence of Jesus did the gospel writers intend to provide for the readers?) - Genre

·         Factual accounts vs. allegorical stories

·         History vs. theology

·         Biography vs. Novel

·         Do they present the truth about Jesus or the beliefs of the writers?

·         Why are there four gospels and not just one? Why not more than four?

B.     The Genre of the Gospels – What are the characteristics of the literature (Explicitly or implicitly they will be answered) Contract between the author and reader – playing by the same set of rules

1.      Importance of genre (Compare with other literature)

2.      The genre of the gospels – (Consider the Authors,)


a.       Contents of the gospels

·         The variety of content in the gospels indicates that a gospel is different type of literature than any other in the Bible.

o   Events, Narratives, Parables, Teaching (Quotes, sayings of Jesus, Doctrine, Commands), Interpretation of Events, OT Quotes, Prophecy, Beatitudes….


Conclusion - different kind of literature than any other in the bible and different than other literature in the ancient world                                                      

b.      Comparison with other literature

·         Aretalogies:  Greco-Roman accounts of the life of a “divine man” that embellish or exaggerate the feats of a famous hero or warrior of the past.

·         Comedies/Tragedies

·         Midrash: commentaries on OT texts – (Interpretive retelling with embellishments) Robert Gundry – Matthew is a Midrash on the gospel of Mark.

·         Biographies

1)  The gospels are dissimilar to modern biographies:

·         Not concerned with precise chronology

·         Not concerned with personal appearance of Jesus

·         Not concerned with the development of his personality/character

Stanton - Failure to distinguish between modern biographies and ancient biographies

2)  The gospels are similar to ancient biographies:

·         Ancient writers were more selective, portrayed significant events in the life of important people;

·         Character development was more indirect, letting the actions and words of the person speak for themselves.


3)  The gospels are dissimilar to ancient biographies:

·         The gospels are formally anonymous – no gospel says who wrote it.

·         They are not as literary as most biographies -

·         They combine teaching and action in a work designed to proclaim.



c.       The gospels are perhaps best thought of as “theological biographies”

·         They give us factual details of Jesus’ life (biography)

·         They bear witness to the truth (theology) they preach to us, proclaim instruct and preach.

·         Macro – Theological Biographies,

·         Micro – variety of forms used.

v  A key interpretative challenge:  to recognize how the wide variety of forms in the gospels contribute to their larger purpose of proclaiming Jesus as Savior and Lord.

How do these forms contribute to this end? (Tacitus and Pelepius….Eyewitness testimony and the Gold Standard)

Trust worthy accounts

(What role is the teaching of Jesus….how do we take the teachings of Jesus.)  Not a rule book….rigid…..wooden….

C.     The Synoptic Gospels and John

·         Synoptic means “seeing together” (from syn: “together”, and opsis: “seeing”)

·         (Common view, content structure and tone)

| !!!!! Synoptics

| !!!!! John


Structured according to a general geographic sequence Focus on ministry in Jerusalem during Jesus’ periodic visits there
Cover many of the same events Covers largely different material from syn.
A focus on healings and exorcisms No exorcisms
Contains much teaching in parables No parables
A tone of intense, rapid-fire action Meditative; fewer events, longer discourses


·         If the synoptics are so much alike, why are there three of them?

·         Why not develop an entire single narrative or biography.

1.      There is some value to harmonizing the gospels

(History is at the heart of the gospels, disconnect from historical objective truth)

                                    “Robert Stein – Jesus the Messiah”

                                    (Remain tethered to the authors intent (God inspired intent) of each gospel)

2.      The gospel writers were proclaiming Christ, not writing exhaustive biographies.

·         They were not trying to give us an exhaustive account of Jesus’ life

·         (No one can be or admits as a goal to being exhaustive)


·         They were selective in what they chose to communicate

·         They often were not concerned with chronology

(After these things....order of events not arranged in chronological order)

·         They arrange their material in various ways

·         Matthew groups his material, Luke will scatter his material, Artificial grid can not be enforced (literary genre) “quotes” are modern. (Literary form sets the context) Read the text

·         We must evaluate them according to the standards of their day.


3.       The evangelists were preachers!

·         The gospels as “two-level documents”

1)  The writers faithfully reported historical details of Jesus’ life and teaching

2)      The writers also were addressing their own audiences, communicating the      truth about Jesus in such a way as to instruct and edify those audiences

a.       Ecclesiological intention – applied, interpreted, preached.

                                                                                                              i.      Facts about Jesus that are aimed at congregations,

What will you do with this man?




Genius of the gospels.four portraits of the person and work of Christ Rembrant analogy

Leon Morris – “Jesus is such a gigantic figure we need four gospel’s to capture.”

Beauty, power, wisdom…..four gospel accounts… gospel

Ryle – the gospel were written to make us acquainted with Christ…..the gospel were written to make men familiar with Christ.

“. . . our Lord Himself [through inspiration] has guided the

 evangelists as they seek, not only to report, but also to interpret and to

 apply the life and ministry of Jesus to their Christian communities.”

                                    Moises Silva, quoted in Interpreting the Synoptic Gospels,

by S. McKnight

4.      As teachers of God’s word, we must approach the gospels thoughtfully, recognizing their challenges and understanding their complexities.  We will find, however, that these complexities, rather than being a weakness, are instead part of the gospels’ richness, beauty, and power.

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