The Earliest Records of Jesus: A Companion to the Synopsis of the First Three Gospels

The Earliest Records of Jesus: A Companion to the Synopsis of the First Three Gospels

The Earliest Records of Jesus: A Companion to the Synopsis of the First Three Gospels

The Earliest Records of Jesus: A Companion to the Synopsis of the First Three Gospels

Excerpt

I The Making of the Synoptic Gospels and their Relationship to One Another

No attempt will be made here to offer a general discussion of the manifold and complex problems which are involved in the relationships between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. For this, the reader is referred to the general text-books of Introduction to the New Testament and to the Introductions to the major commentaries. The paragraphs which follow represent nothing more than a summary statement of the writers' own views on the main questions.

1. All the Gospels are anonymous documents, and nothing is known of the authors. The traditional names attached to them are second-century guesses. If we continue to speak of them by the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it is simply for the sake of convenience.

2. The Gospels are in a large degree products of the Christian community, and the materials which they employ took shape in the usage of the over a period of from thirty to a hundred years before being committed to writing. Short collections of storm and sayings may have been in circulation during the first generation of the Church, but there was no connected account of the ministry of Jesus. The writers of our Gospels constructed them out of materials which had been handed down in fragmentary fashion. Nevertheless, their work was not one of mere compilation. By the selection and arrangement of their inherited materials, and by the exercise of a limited liberty of interpretation, they have made personal contributions of no small importance to the portrait of Jesus which they have transmitted to us.

3. The Gospel according to St. Mark does not stand in any particularly close relationship to St. Peter, and there are no solid grounds for holding to the account of Papias that Mark was the interpreter of Peter, and that we have in this Gospel essentially the reminiscences of the Prince of the Apostles as transmitted by his closest associate, almost his private secretary. On the contrary, it has been made abundantly evident that the materials employed in this Gospel have passed through a complicated process of transmission in the Gentile churches of the first Christian generation. They may best be regarded as the deposit of the tradition concerning Jesus as it was held in the Roman church about A.D. 70. The ultimate sources of this tradition were many and varied, and its diverse elements came to Rome through many channels. St. Peter certainly contributed something to the body of tradition available to Mark. Not only was he one of the principal bearers of the tradition from the very beginning, but he almost certainly laboured in Rome before his death, and suffered martyrdom there in the time of Nero. But the Gospel as a whole is not . . .

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