Articles Comments

Yeshua in Context » Beginners, Formation of the Gospels, Study Tips » Beginner’s Guide to the Gospels #1

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.


Before you get too far in reading and thinking about the gospels — their history, the way they present Yeshua, their literary themes, their theology, the practical aspects of discipleship, and so on — it is a good idea to consider where they came from and something about how they came to us. I’ll present a more detailed theory in “Part 4: Eyewitness Theory and the Gospels.â€

First, there is some terminology that is important. The first three gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are known as the synoptic gospels. “Synoptic†means “seeing together†and these gospels are in many ways similar in outline. They present Yeshua from the time of John the Baptist or earlier, his career in Galilee, his final journey to Jerusalem, his trials, death, and empty tomb. The fourth gospel (John) has a different sort of outline in several ways, presenting Yeshua as going to Jerusalem multiple times at various festivals.

There are other terms that can be important to know. Infancy narratives: in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, the story of Yeshua’s birth and childhood. Passion narratives: all four gospels relate the story of Yeshua’s presentation, trials, and death in Jerusalem. Resurrection narratives: all four gospels relate the empty tomb and three of the four relate appearances after the empty tomb.

For now, I will present two basic theories about the order and relationships of the gospels. The first we might call the standard scholarly paradigm and the second a modified paradigm:

Standard Scholarly Paradigm
MARK is written first (most agree on this point).
MARK is a source for MATTHEW and LUKE.
MATTHEW and LUKE are independent of one another.
MATTHEW and LUKE share material in common not found in MARK.
A non-existent document called Q is considered a possible source for the common material in MATTHEW and LUKE that is not in MARK.
Q is thought to be a document of sayings of Yeshua (no narratives).
JOHN is often thought to be independent or maybe even unaware of the others.
This is also called the TWO-SOURCE theory, which means the synoptic gospels are based on two sources: MARK and Q.

Modified Paradigm
MARK is written first.
MARK is a source for MATTHEW.
MARK and MATTHEW are sources for LUKE.
There is no such thing as Q.
JOHN may present a different approach, but does use MARK as a source (and perhaps all the synoptics).

The modified paradigm is my own preferred way of looking at the evidence and combines ideas from several scholars. To read more about why Q probably does not exist, consider the arguments of Mark Goodacre in The Case Against Q. To consider the case for John using Mark as a source, consider Richard Bauckham’s “John for Readers of Mark†in The Gospels for All Christians.

Written by

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

3 Responses to "Beginner’s Guide to the Gospels #1"

  1. James says:

    This isn’t exactly related, but I find I’m losing track of the various multi-part series you’ve written. There are some that I want to keep in touch with or to recall the interval of time that has passed since the last “chapter” has appeared here or in your “Musings” blog.

    I know you are quite busy, but is there any way you could list your various series with links to the various submissions? I know there are some I was eager to continue reading that haven’t seen the light of day for awhile. It would be helpful to have some sort of reference.

    Thanks and Chag Sameach.

  2. yeshuain says:


    I know. I’m terrible. I write and write and change titles and start things and don’t finish. I’m planning to editi many of my series and post them as eBooks and so forth. But here on the YIC blog at least I have tons of categories and everything is labelled carefully. So here you should be able to find material topically.

    Derek Leman

  3. Don says:

    I am with you on the Modified Paradigm. The concept of a Q document is taken too seriously for an idea that cannot be proven. When it is presented as an idea or conceptualization, it is more palatable, but it is often presented as a fact.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>