As Mark Strauss points out in his Four Portraits One Jesus, it is important to understand the genre of a document before attempting to read it with understanding. We do not read the newspaper the same way we read C. S. Lewis, nor do we read Lewis the same way we read the Bible. One of the problems is that modern readers approach the Gospels with the assumption that they conform to modern literary genre: they are either history or theology.
Various explanations of the possible literary genre of the four gospels have been offered. Most Christians approach the gospels as biographies of Jesus. The do have some biography-like elements, but they are not biographies by the standards of the modern world. Only two show any interest in his birth, only one story occurs before his public ministry, and the majority of the material comes from the last week of Jesus’ life. Most biographical questions are left unanswered.
A few scholars have suggested that the gospels are patterned after Greco-Roman Aretalogies. This is a “divine man” biography, the history of a famous hero that has been built up to make him a god-like person (a biography of a god-like person, Julius Caesar, for example.) The Greek word aretai means “mighty deeds.” Aretalogies are the records of the mighty deeds of a god or hero. An example from the second century is Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana. When Josephus describes Moses in Against Apion (2:154-158) he expands the praise beyond the biblical material. (For more on Aretalogy, see David L. Tiede, “Aretalogy” in ABD 1:372-373.) It does not seem to me that the biblical material over-plays the case for Jesus as God. The stories that do appear seem muted and Jesus never really comes right out and claims to be divine in a way that would end all debate.
Based on Luke 1:1-4, it is possible to read the Gospels as historical documents. Luke claims in the prologue to his Gospel and the prologue to Acts to be writing history. That stories are not created by Luke is evident in his claim to have sought the eye witnesses to the events. The tradition that Mark wrote his gospel based on the preaching of Peter indicates that Mark was well-versed in the eye-witness testimony of Peter. Mark appears to be used by both Matthew and Luke, Matthew also being an eye-witness. John supplements this material with his own eye-witness testimony, albeit from a theological angle at a much later date.
But even if the Gospels contain history, they must be considered theological documents as well. Consider John 20:30-31, where the author of the fourth Gospel states that his purpose was to convince the readers of a theological fact (“Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”) and that by believing this theology, the reader might “have life in his name.”
While John’s gospel is the most theological of the four, the other gospels are not simply historical and non-theological. Matthew, Mark and Luke have clear theological agendas. One cannot approach these documents without getting into the question of who Jesus is, who he claims to be, and how the gospel writers present him in their telling of the story.
The Gospels are therefore best described as historical-theological documents. The gospels are most similar to Greco-Roman biographies or history texts. Once we step into the world of the first century and study what history looked like then, we discover that the gospels are not all that removed from the standard of history writing for the time. Luke especially follows some of the conventions for writing good history in the first century.
Perhaps it is best to conclude that the genre is unique: the Gospels are theological biographies. They contain historical data that is presented through a theological filter. The writers are selective of the material available, recording only the events of Jesus’ life which make a theological point. For the most part, these writers are demonstrating that Jesus is the Son of God, that he is fully human, that he died as an atoning sacrifice for mankind. This make a historical, theological and literary study of the gospels legitimate, they are all of three of these genres combined in something of a unique fashion.
Does this definition of “gospel” as a historical-theological book help make more sense of the books as we read them? Are we in danger here of giving up history? Let me know what you think.
Bibliography. The issue of the genre of the Gospels is covered by Craig Blomberg, Historical Reliability, 235-240; Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, 323-325, Willem S. Vorster, “Gospel Genre” in ABD 2:1077-1079; David Aune, “The Problem of the Genre of the Gospels: A Critique of C. H. Talbert’s What Is a Gospel?” Gospel Perspectives: Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels, (ed. R. T. France and D. Wenham; Sheffield: JSNT, 1981) 2:9–60.
34 thoughts on “What Are the Gospels?”
Growing up, I always viewed the Gospels as a biography of Christ’s life. It makes sense that I would be upset at the extreme lack of information about Christ’s life before He started His ministry. If we say that the books are written as “contain(ing) historical data that is presented through a theological filter” would it be safe to say that Christ did nothing of theological significance during His time before His ministry? Or could it just be that the writers had no knowledge of anything else Christ did? I imagine that the writer of Luke heard about Christ’s time as a boy in the temple from Jesus Himself right? Or could it be from His mother, Mary? I guess it all depends on sources. Like you were saying in class, (I think you said this) the Gospel writers didn’t cite to many sources, this may or may not have been the custom of the time, so we do not really know where they gained all of their info anyway. (Other than from God Himself).
I don’t really have an issue with saying that the only things included in the Gospels are theological, my only issue would be to say that Christ did nothing theological during His time before ministry. And to be honest, I don’t think you are even making that argument.
Yes, I would agree that the gospels are both historical and theological, but I feel they have strong theological leanings and weaker historical leanings. Just as you said, their writers obviously had “theological agendas” when writing their books. For this reason I would argue that they are creating historical context for Jesus as a man but they intentionally offer much more theological explanation as to who He was as God’s Son. All in all, I think that I agree with what you are getting at. Though I still feel uncertain as to where I would place the gospels categorically, if I had to make a definitive decision.
In reality, the mystery of the Incarnation created the historical context, and theology seeks to unfold and reveal it. But only faith can behold it!
But, I don’t know that we see much support for that in the synoptic gospels. The synoptic gospels are very similar. The only differences throughout these three gospels seems to be the theological flavor that each author brings through his writings. But, historically speaking, there seems very little (if any) major differences.
Also, perhaps you didn’t mean it this way, but to say that they were “creating historical context for Jesus as a man but they intentionally offer much more theological explanation as to who He was as God’s Son,” seems to really limit the potential for the gospel writers to see Jesus as fully human. But, I think their issue was not that Jesus was a man who was alive at the time. I think any issue would have been dealing with the theological implications of Jesus claiming his divinity as God’s son. And that claim and any defense of it did not come from the authors but instead came from the object of the writings; that is, Jesus Christ himself. And Christ is fully God and fully Man. And he seemed less concerned with theology in his time than he was with his purpose and mission within the history of the world, as the King of all Creation.
It seems to me the reason that we have difficulty classifying the documents is because we want to place them in scholarly or literary genres that are the products of our Western, rationalistic mindset. As Christians we have too often succumbed to the contemporary (read: post-Enlightenment) de/il-lusion that “theology” is a category that pertains to belief – take-it or leave-it – while history has to do with real, everyday, life. So we say: “even if the gospels ‘contain’ history” – my quote – they are “theological documents as well.” This is a false dichotomy. We need to get over it.
WE cannot escape some of this “dichotomy” in the West, and even the EO (Eastern Orthodox) feel this in the whole basic culture of postmodernity, now. And the Gospel or Good News is also always something of an existential reality! St. Paul was himself a Roman citizen, and grappled with the Jewish Hellenist sense and too the Greco-Roman. (See Gal. 4: 4-7)…noting Paul’s doctrine of Roman Adoption!
Great point! Theology is not always an area of intangible belief. Theology happens in fox holes. It happens in soup kitchens. It happens in courthouses. It happens in history.
And history is driven by the ideals and views of men. We write history. And it always reflects the people’s worldviews (or theologies).
To my mind at least, the Synoptic Gospels should be seen as historical-theological, but of course this is not fully a modern idea of history. And the Gospel of John is perhaps more so “theological”, then historical. But John’s history just might be some of the most important! Note here btw, John A.T. Robinson’s book: The Priority of John! And I still see myself John A,T. Robinson’s work and book: Redating the New Testament, as simply one of the most profound in this area!
Classifying the gospels as historical-theological books seems to be the best option for understanding this section of Scripture. Support for the historical nature of the Gospels is clear. For example, Matthew opens with an historical genealogy and “Luke claims in the prologue to his Gospel…to be writing history”. However, many of the historical accounts of Jesus found in the Gospels are given to support the theological implications of Jesus as Christ. The details of Jesus’ life are not only historical facts; they are the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies. Therefore, studying the history of the life of Christ cannot be done without acknowledging its theological implications. I believe this approach also helps us sort out problems with differing accounts between the Gospels. When we read conflicting historical details, Judas’ death for example, we can lean more heavily on the theological implications of the surrounding events and what the true intention of the text is.
Good general thoughts here from “scott miller”! I agree! 😉
“However, many of the historical accounts of Jesus found in the Gospels are given to support the theological implications of Jesus as Christ. The details of Jesus’ life are not only historical facts; they are the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies. Therefore, studying the history of the life of Christ cannot be done without acknowledging its theological implications.” I really liked that Scott brought up this fact. As I was doing studying for a theology class last semester, and some of my personal devotions from this summer, I came across some things mentioned in the Gospels that I did not understand. Such as in John 20:6-7 (ESV) where the face piece of Christ (also referred to as a napkin)had been laid off to the side and folded up. There is a great deal of significance why this was done.
Going back into Jewish culture, whenever a king or great official was finished eating a meal, he would put his napkin on the plate to signal that he was finished/full. However, if the man was called away to deal with something, he would fold his napkin and put it off to the side to signal that he was returning to finish what he had started. So from seeing that the head piece of Christ was separated from all of the other linen in the tomb, we get a foreshadowing of the return of Christ to finish the work he had started.
The Specific example of Jesus folding his head piece is just one example of the reason the Gospels were written, the author included it because of its significance. From a western standpoint we cannot understand many things that happened, but if we study history and learn the implications and cultural significance we can understand the message of the Gospels more clearly. I thought your example was brilliant Marc, and it goes back to what was said in the article. The Authors included things with theological significance, writing to prove that Jesus Christ is God’s son. However we need to realize that the historical events lead to theological thinking, the actions and words of Jesus are backed up by eyewitness accounts. Both history and theology are necessary to sculpt the beauty of the gospels, giving hope and proof of the story of Jesus Christ.
I agree that the putting the label of “historical-theological book” on the gospels would be the most accurate. It seems that that would be the best title for the Bible as a whole as well. The historical parts of the gospels, and the rest of the Bible, are what bring the theological parts meaning. I agree with Scott Miller when he says, “The details of Jesus’ life are not only historical facts; they are the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies. Therefore, studying the history of the life of Christ cannot be done without acknowledging its theological implications.” These two things are entwined and it would be hard, if not impossible, to get the intended meaning out of the gospels without both the historical and the theological. On another note, I think that Chris A brought up a good question about whether or not Jesus’ life before his ministry was left out due to the fact that nothing of great theological or historical significance happened. I guess it would be safe to say that nothing important to our belief and lives in Christ today happened or God would have put it in the Bible.
Audrey, very interesting that you say the historical-theological genre “would be the best title for the Bible as a whole as well.” At first I want to disagree, because what about books like Proverbs? Ecclesiastes? Or, what about the epistles? But even those, and especially many other books, have historical undertones, with vast cultural and social backgrounds in mind as you read. The historical books are obviously historical, the poetic books have great historical significance (Psalms always talks about how King David is running from his enemies), and the prophets bring into focus the narrative of the whole Old Testament as we’ve been discussing in class and reading in our texts. Thank you for that very thought-provoking observation.
I agree with many others that have already commented here that the historical and the theological are both crucial parts to literature such as the Gospels. And it’s astounding to me, because I really have never thought about the Gospels in that way before. Wright’s remark that “Jesus of Nazareth was a figure of history” (Wright, 6) is applicable here. If someone is just a “religious person” who “believes in Jesus” but doesn’t really accept the Bible as authoritative or trustworthy and so dismisses the real Jesus of the past, then they’ve lost the realness of what the Gospel itself is all about. However, if someone only acknowledges the historical Jesus without accepting the theological repercussions of all that he did, then they’ve only gotten a cheap humanistic picture of all that Jesus really did.
I wonder if historical-theological is “better” that theological-historical? Perhaps to some Christians they are history first, to others they are theology. My point above was that neither category cancels the other. To take you last line a bit further, Kyle, forcing the gospels solely into *either* category might end up with a “cheap humanistic picture” of Jesus.
I agree with your idea of the Gospels being “historical-theological” books or “theological biographies”. The connection you mention between the Gospels’ style and other Greco-Roman biographies or histories is a great support for the idea of the Gospels being historical. It would be interesting to see a comparison broken down of the structure of Greco-Roman histories and the Gospels. Also, I do not think we are in danger of giving up history by classifying them as theological. A book that records the events and life of Jesus must be theological if he is who we say he is. Otherwise we risk separating Jesus into categories of divine and man. I think separating parts of the Gospels as being theological and some as historical is tantamount with separating Jesus into historical and theological, or human and God. I would say there is no separation and there is no separation of historical and theological in the account of his life. The Gospel record facts of the life of Jesus. That should make it theological in and of itself. Thus, I agree with your idea of viewing the gospels as both theological and historical.
I believe that we are completely in danger if we abandon the historical side of the Bible and focus solely on the theological aspect or only the elements that are emotionally impactful for us. As an individual who has been referred to as a “world traveler,” I cannot adequately stress the importance of knowing the history and culture of the people one is studying or directly interacting with. In Strauss’s Four Portraits One Jesus, he devotes an entire chapter solely to the social and cultural setting of the gospels. As he includes elements such as family life, food, clothing, work, and entertainment among many others, the reader quickly becomes aware of the weight that the historical and cultural implications of the time had on the way that people went about their everyday lives. As Strauss so clearly demonstrates by using the story of the prodigal son, understanding the culture of the time is crucial in order to fully appreciate the father’s reaction to the cultural disgrace that his son put him through. Romans 15:4 states, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope.” Thus, the Bible was written in order that we can learn from it and have encouragement and hope. Yet how can we receive the fullest and most complete benefits of what was written if we do not take the time to study the historical side along with the theological side? As Professor Long points out, “The Gospels are theological biographies. They contain historical data that is presented through a theological filter.” I couldn’t agree more. Both elements are present, and both elements are vital in order to experience and benefit from the Scriptures to the fullest capacity.
“I believe that we are completely in danger if we abandon the historical side of the Bible and focus solely on the theological aspect or only the elements that are emotionally impactful for us.”
So true! I think about Kings and Chronicles and other books like them. These are the historical books of the Bible. But they make up much more than history. They define and establish the culture of the Jewish people. These stories of history are essential to the identity of Israel.
And that just shows how important it is that we who wish to understand Israel should seek to understand their histories.
Certainly the balance between the historical & the existential is very important, and cannot be an either or. To my mind St. Paul’s theology is always a “mystical” reality also, but indeed Law/Gospel is always too central.
It is impossible to make an account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus without writing history. Though this doesn’t limit Jesus to just a historical figure or the Gospels to just historical documents. I would have said if Tyler Cook didn’t, “I would say there is no separation and there is no separation of historical and theological in the account of his life”. I couldn’t agree more. Through Strauss’ Four Portraits, as the reader comes to understand the historical, religious, social, and cultural setting of the Gospels they are able to more fully and correctly read and interpret Jesus’ life and what he meant to the people. It is crucial that we take the documents historically in order to keep from taking the stories out of context and applying them wrongly with a twenty first century mindset. N.T. Wright early on in Simply Jesus introduces this problem and explains it this way, “We are therefore in a curious position when we try to place Jesus in his proper historical context. We know a very great deal about the short, final period of his life and hardly anything about the earlier period… the four gospels in the New Testament – are dense, complex, and multilayered. They are works of art (of a sort) in their own right. But it is quite impossible to explain their very existence, let alone their detailed content, unless Jesus was himself not only a figure of real, solid history, but also pretty much the sort of person they make him out to be” (Wright 7). The rest of the paragraph goes in greater detail and results in an argument for studying Jesus and the Gospels historically in order to “discover the Jesus they’ve been telling us about all along”. Without studying this as history, can we really discover and come to know who Jesus was in flesh and is as King – as Son of God? Naturally, though I support the gospels as historical text, theological implications are bound and weaved throughout so I would agree and also call these historical-theological books. There is no way one can claim the text not theological simply because of what Jesus was about and what he was doing. As much as Jesus is a historical figure, a real person, he was the son of God, the messiah and came preaching the kingdom. Regardless of how one try to read the text, historically or theologically, there is no separating them. Jesus made history. Jesus is God.
Great post Kym. Just because I loved it so much when I first read it a couple months ago, and because I loved it again when I read your post, I am going to restate this amazing quote from Tom Wright.
“We are therefore in a curious position when we try to place Jesus in his proper historical context. We know a very great deal about the short, final period of his life and hardly anything about the earlier period… the four gospels in the New Testament – are dense, complex, and multilayered. They are works of art (of a sort) in their own right. But it is quite impossible to explain their very existence, let alone their detailed content, unless Jesus was himself not only a figure of real, solid history, but also pretty much the sort of person they make him out to be” (Wright 7).
I am an Anglican myself, but old Tom Wright (a year older than me), is always interesting to say the least, indeed the Synoptic Gospels are a mystery, though Matthew is perhaps itself its own “genre”. But the Gospel of John historically needs to be its own priority too! I am not a Wrightian! 😉
Dr. Long’s point in distinguishing the Gospels as alternative forms of literature thematically speaking from what we see in writings of a modern (and post-modern) world is a very true and valid point. Too often, we find ourselves (usually unintentionally) trying to fit everything in its respective categorical niche. Everything must have a place, a role, a purpose. But this is not how people thought just a few centuries ago, let alone almost two thousand years ago and half way around the world. The Bible is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful pieces/collections of literature available to the world. Yes, I must admit that, I, as a Christian, am biased towards this view and have many presuppositions. But, this does not make my statement any less ‘true.’ And one of the reasons I feel this way is because the Bible works. It fits. It ‘gels’ nicely. For a collection of books by many different men of many different backgrounds, the Bible flows. It is a book of one theme (Redemption) and it is a book of many themes (justice, sovereignty, service, etc.). And more specifically to the topic of which we are focusing here, it is a gathering of books that, as single units, carry within themselves many literary and genre-related purposes. The Gospels do indeed fit the molds of history and theology.
Strauss is correct in his thinking that a documents genre should be recognized before reading begins. Most people would all say that they find that to be well and good. But, are people becoming increasingly poor at handling this responsibility? I think so. Too often, people regard the revelation given to John to be analogous to an adventure in wonderland. But, by making the scriptures out to be singularly and ultimately allegorical, the reader misses out on the full potential and beauty of the Scriptures. The same is true if one labels a biblical document as solely historical, theological, or biographical. And so we must not be quick to judge the literary purpose of these gospels.
But we must also not be too quick to embrace a section of the holy script as applicable to all people, all views, all opinions, and all ideas regarding their genre; lest we encourage the trendy ideals of this age of post-modernity (those of which that are not biblical). And, therefore, begin escalating the lack of biblical illiteracy and understanding because of our sudden embrace of the people who would wish to label the gospels as works of fiction or propaganda.
Ultimately, I agree with the general conclusion of this post; hence, my lack of argument for or against it. But, the notion that we must consider this area is important. Not just for the gospels, but for the rest of Scripture and for all literature. Heck, we don’t want to go around misinterpreting every billboard as the inspired word of the gods.
(I was also going to add in a Star Wars illustration to better allow myself to rant about my dislike for the franchise. But, to do so, I would be feeding into the very thing I’m arguing against here. So, I will have to find a more suitable place to lay the foundation for the discussion).
Jared, well done. I also feel that things taken to be gospel by the heretofore breeding’s of post-modern culture are a synopsis of non-relative intuitions that beleaguer those of small minds. Insofar as might be expected the theology and historicity of the gospels themselves come as a maneuver to divert the true intention of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Thus said, the anthropomorphism’s of the OT became God in the flesh of the new testament rightly reported by those with unction to do so.
Even though I did read the beginning of this article stressing “it is important to understand the genre of a document before attempting to read it with understanding,” when I began to read this post by Dr. Long, I almost found it humorous that there even has to be so much thought put into what genre the Gospels fall into. Can’t we just read them and understand them? But as I continued to read, I did find the value of labeling them. It’s not so much because we need one more thing to put into a box and organize (although maybe that is an influence), but because it brings us a step closer to picking apart exactly what the author’s original intent was in writing. I think the description of the books as historical-theological is a good and fair angle. As we’ve seen from reading Wright and Strauss both, you can get a good idea of the historical context of the books simply by reading them and paying attention to the details that the author included. We also get an impression of how politically-minded the books are at times, with so many mentions of taxes, kingdoms, kings, thrones and peoples, which can also be a characteristic of a historical book. And we can never discount the theological importance of the Gospels. The things Jesus said, although still in line with the same kingdom message of the Old Testament, did have major theological implications that amazed the people of his day and are still profound to this day.
To me, it relates to how Wright describes Jesus himself in the preface of Simply Jesus. Wright, speaking about how many times we disassociate the Jesus whom we worship from the actual Jesus who walked the earth, remarks, “the Jesus whom I preach is the Jesus who lived and died as a real human being in the first-century Palestine.” (Wright, x) Jesus is an amazingly complex person both then and now, and he is both to be worshiped and understood to have been on our Earth two thousand years ago. The same idea can be applied to the Gospels. We hold them to a very high level, and deservedly so! They are inspired works from God built to teach us about him and our world. But they are also historical, some of the most reliable historical documents to date. They serve many purposes, most certainly even more than we have talked about.
I think history has a major part in recognizing the theological connection between the books. So, to answer the question does a historical-theological look on the “gospel” help us make sense of the books, yes. If there was no history or we overlook history while we discover the gospels.
As Mark Strauss explains in his book, Four Portraits, One Jesus, he explains in the first chapter how each book of the gospels are correlated in some aspect, but are telling a story in a different way. The descriptions are presented as, “Matthew, the Gospel of the Messiah. Mark, the Gospel of the suffering Son of God. Luke, the Gospel of the Savior for all people. John, the Gospel of the divine Son who reveals the Father” (Strauss, 24). There is history to each part of the gospels and if we skip out on the history of them, then we will never fully understand where, how, and why each book was written with different details of Jesus Christ. Obviously each gospel has a meaning and a different story to each book – even if there is a similarity between all of them – we would not have known unless we knew the history behind it. Whenever I read the gospels I always felt like I was re-reading the book that was before. I now have an understanding that there is a reason for it. History reveals that difference.
Historical and theological truth are given to us through the gospels. Jesus is presented as a historical figure in 1st century Palestine who worked wonders, performed miracles, and fed the multitudes. The Jesus of history and Christ of faith cannot be separated. Each gospel might have been written to a particular group or groups of people but the reason is that the converts to this new religion would know that Jesus is the Christ and that in him they may have eternal life. I think that perhaps the idea of a man claiming to be God and doing the things he did was to hard to be believed but, through the accounts (some eyewitness-some not) of the gospels, unbelievers would come to the realization that indeed there was someone who did the things Jesus did. Just like today, people needed to be convinced that Jesus was God in the flesh and what better way than through credible testimony.
A lot of VERY GOOD discussion here. Chris\’s comment here especially appropriate, something of what I tried to comment earlier in this thread. We need to take these documents on their own terms, not try to force them into 21st C categories, which themselves have too often grown out of anti-theology-as-possibly-true biases.
Remembering that the gospels are more then just stories about Aretalogies or a “divine man” can be difficult when we grow up hearing these Bible stories right along with our Dr. Sues books. Defining the gospel as a historical-theological book defiantly helps me remember that they are so much more them biographies. Going to Israel this past winter was a wonderful reminder of all the history and background information that I do not know about the Bible in general. I think that we can be in danger of giving up history, but remember that there is a lot we still have to learn is the first step in saving us from giving it up.
As Christians most of us would look at the gospels and affirm them as historical documents. We believe the Jesus lives, we believe he did what the gospels tells us he did, and we believe he said what they tell us he said. So historical documents would be a good genre for the gospels. But as it has previously been stated, the gospels don’t really tell us all that much about the life of Jesus. We have 2 accounts of his birth, a story about him teaching at the temple when he was a young boy (Luke 2:39-52), and the rest of the account takes place in the last 3 years of his life on earth. Most of the gospels are in fact about his last week before his death and resurrection. The writers didn’t simply chose to tell us about Jesus’ last week at random. They did so with a great purpose in mind. The theological implications to believing that Christ lived, and died aren’t don’t weigh nearly as heavy as believing that he rose from the dead three days later. There is no other explanation to believing that he actually died and rose again than to believe that something supernatural had occurred. The gospel writers wrote the gospel with the intent to prove to the reader that Jesus rose because he is the Son of God himself. This is a theologically driven purpose. If the gospels had been written simply to record the life of Jesus as a biography, there would be much more written about his other actions, and there probably would be much less of a time gap. John tell us himself in John 21:25, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
Like Mitch said, most of us would look at the gospels as historical documents. This is how i previously looked at them and always thought of them. I viewed them almost as a text book for a class, just something i got more out of then a text book. I never really thought of them being theological until i read about all the prophecies that are fulfilled throughout the gospels. There is countless examples of this. The gospels are meant to be more than just historical documents because if they were they would have been more in depth. We do not know much about Jesus childhood and birth. The gospels are not very in depth about these topics until Jesus starts his ministry. The gospels must be classified as theological and historical documents.
Looking at the gospels I would agree that they can be considered as historic documents. “The gospels are most similar to Greco-Roman biographies or history texts. Once we step into the world of the first century and study what history looked like then, we discover that the gospels are not all that removed from the standard of history writing for the time.” Sometimes at Bible College we dive into the theological aspect of the Old and New Testament, and it is hard to see how historically accurate and important books like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are. The recording of Jesus’ birth, life, and death in the Gospels contains the most important theological truths, but also the most important historical truths.
I was in the same boat as Travis was for awhile, when I sat down to read the Bible I tended to read Paul’s letters because they were what was important to me. I saw them as being more important in regards to how I was to live. Part of this was because I saw the gospels as just stories about Jesus’ life, things I heard in Sunday school and once versed in them I wouldn’t need to return and reread them. I knew the stories or history they contained. As I’ve grown though I’ve begun to realize their importance to our theology and doctrine as Christians.