Synoptic Gospels

Read Complete Research Material

Synoptic Gospels

Synoptic Gospels

Scholarly Techniques

Historians and Bible scholars analyze the Canonical Gospels, Talmud, Gospel according to the Hebrews, Gnostic Gospels, Josephus, and other early documents attempting to find the Historical Jesus. A number of methods have been developed to critically analyze these sources:


Historians prefer the oldest sources about Jesus, and as a rule of thumb they tend to disregard sources written more than a century after Jesus' death.

Criterion of dissimilarity

More narrowly, the criterion of embarrassment, statements contrary or dissimilar to the author's agenda are likely to be more reliable. For example, if the crucifixion was a cause of embarrassment to early Christians, they would be unlikely to claim that Jesus had been crucified unless he actually had been.

Criterion of independent attestation

When two or more independent sources present similar or consistent accounts, it is at least nearly certain that the tradition pre-dates the sources. Multiple attestation is not the same as independent attestation, e.g. Matthew and Luke used Mark's Gospel as a source, therefore a story present in all these three Gospels is in fact attested in only one independent source. See the Historicity of Jesus for a list of sources pertaining to this question.

Cultural congruency

A source is more credible if the account makes sense in the context of what is known about the culture in which the events unfold. E.g. some sayings from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas make sense in a second century gnostic beliefs context, but not in the context of first century Christians, since Gnosticism is assumed to have appeared in the second century.

Linguistic criteria

There are certain conclusions that can be drawn from linguistic analysis of the Gospels. For example, if a dialogue makes sense only in Greek, it is quite likely the author is reporting something different from the original historical facts, e.g. the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus from John ch. 3 makes sense in Greek, but not in Aramaic. In Bart Ehrman's opinion, this criterion is included in the contextual credibility, e.g. in their historical context Jesus and Nicodemus were discussing in Aramaic.

Author's agenda

This criterion is the flip side of the criterion of dissimilarity. When the presented material serves the supposed purpose of the author or redactor, it is suspect. For example, various sections of the Gospels, such as the Massacre of the Innocents, portray Jesus' life as fulfilling prophecy, and in the view of many scholars, reflect the agenda of the gospel authors rather than historical events.

Theories of the historical Jesus

Scholars with these views see the historical Jesus as the founder and leader of a restoration movement within Judaism. They identify a continuity between the movement that Jesus started and the religion that would eventually define itself as the Christian Church.

Current scholarship is in the so-called "third quest" of the historical Jesus. Important representatives of the third quest are E.P. Sanders, Geza Vermes, Gerd Theissen, and John Dominic Crossan. Scholarship has split into different trends, with the main point of contention over whether Jesus saw the Kingdom of God ...
Related Ads