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The gospels are not direct divine products

The gospels are products of early Christian communities that tell us how these
communities told, reflected upon, and interpreted various shared narratives about
experiences of Jesus.

Result of a developing tradition

Not simply historical accounts of Jesus life
Not eyewitness accounts of Jesus
Not factually accurate reports of his life and message
Not history, but memory Written from within and for early Christian communities

Some Biblical Basics

A text in two parts: 1. Jewish Bible (the bible of Jesus and his earliest followers), 2.
Christian New testament (written by his earliest followers for fellow Christians)

The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)

Mark is the earlies (60s, 70s CE)
Matthew and Luke (80s)
Both are based on a group of writings known as Q (early 50s), writings that
Matthew and Luke share but are not present in Mark
John (90s)
Gospels contain multiple layers of material with multiple voices (textual
criticism), all of which are important as evidence of early Christian testimony
to what Jesus had become for them and their communities

Gospel Parallels
There are differences in the gospels. How do we account for these differences?
Changes, modifications, additions. Also shows that the writers are less interested in
preserving their sources, and more interesting in making their meaning (for their
community) more explicit, even if that means taking interpretative license, in order
to communicate the metaphorical meaning of Jesus in narratival form.
Ideas about Jesus changed. They progressed, developed over time, and became
increasingly clear about a few very important themes:

The identification of Jesus as the Messiah, the promised Son of God

The conviction that Jesus was the revelation of God

Pillars of Modern Jesus Scholarship (the historical critical way of reading)


Memory and Testimony (witness, conviction, proclamation, belief)

Pre-Easter Jesus and the Post-Easter Jesus
Metaphor (more than literal, surplus of meaning): bread of life, light of the
world, the gateway
o Metaphorization of memory (history remembered)
o Purely metaphorical narratives (symbolic narratives)


Lots of metaphors in the gospels; taken literally, it makes little sense

(the genre mistake)
These metaphors point beyond literal meanings; they are not
historically factual reports

Example of Metaphorized Memory the Death Narratives

Example of Purely metaphorical Narratives the Feeding of the Four Thousand

What kind of stories are these?

What do these stories mean? (Borg, 69)

Notes on the primary texts


The divinity of Jesus is a biblical idea as is Jesus humanity. The acting

(agency) of Jesus is the activity of God.
The ontological focus of the creeds on the being of Jesus is not represented in
the biblical texts. Rather they were focused on a functional understanding of
Jesus, centered in what Jesus had done. God acts through Jesus as the Christ,
speaking through him, showing humanity who God is through Jesus life,
message, and actions. In Christ, they have seen God. (11)
NT authors are writing in a Jewish religious context, not a Greek philosophical
one. They are trying to link their ways of understanding and interpreting Jesus
with their long held beliefs about God: monotheism, creation of the world, the
election of Israel and its covenantal promises?
After Jesus death, early communities devoted to Jesus emerged suddenly,
quickly, and were quite widespread. Belief in Jesuss divine status was
common, but this required the development of new ideas about what God
meant. They drew freely upon the Jewish tradition, ideas show a strong
influence of Jesus traditions (critique of pagan polytheism); this turned into a
vision of a genuinely Jewish Jesus; as such, early theologies of Jesus can only
be understood in a Jewish context.