The Genre of the Gospels

Scholars offer various explanations for literary genre of the four gospels. For most Christians, the gospels as biographies of Jesus. Although the Gospels have some biography-like elements, but they are not like biographies by the standards of the modern world. Only two Gospels refer to his birth and there is only one brief story before his public ministry. The majority of the content of the four Gospels  comes from the last week of Jesus’ life. In fact, most biographical questions are left unanswered.

A few scholars have suggested that the gospels are patterned after Greco-Roman Aretalogies. An Aretalogy is a sacred biography narrating the miraculous deeds of a god or hero. It is a “divine man” biography, like the biography of a god-like person, Julius Caesar, for example. The Greek word aretai means “mighty deeds.” An example from the second century is Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana Apollonius was a teacher and miracle worker who died about AD 100, Philostratus wrote his biography in the mid-third century. Jewish writers sometimes wrote biographies that over-emphasize alleged miraculous nature of the subject. When Josephus describes Moses in Against Apion 2:154-158 he expands the praise beyond the biblical material. Philo of Alexandria also glorifies Moses as the greatest sage and lawgiver, a divine-man who is both priest and prophet (see David L. Tiede, “Aretalogy” in ABD 1:372-73).

What is the Gospel Genre?Based on Luke 1:1-4, many read the Gospels as historical documents. Luke claims he is writing history in the prologue to his Gospel and the prologue to Acts. That stories are not created by Luke is evident in his claim to have sought the eyewitnesses to the events. The tradition that Mark wrote his gospel based on the preaching of Peter indicates Mark was well-versed in the eyewitness 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 eyewitness testimony, albeit from a theological angle at a much later date.

But even if the Gospels contain history, they must be considered theological documents. Consider John 20:30-31: the author of the fourth Gospel states  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. The gospels are that dissimilar from the standards of biography or history writing for the time.  Luke especially follows some of the conventions for writing good history in the first century.

In The First Biography of Jesus, Helen K. Bond argues the Gospel of Mark is an ancient biography and as such, the author actively re-appropriated and reconfigured selected material in circulation at the time into a formal literary creation (p. 5). By imposing a biographical structure on this tradition, Mark extended the Christian gospel beyond the death and resurrection of Jesus, so it now included his ministry as well. She surveys ancient Greekand Roman bioi, focusing especially on the role in the educational system: biography was used to teach morality. “at the heart of biography was a concern with character or what Plutarch calls ‘the signs of the souls of men’ (Alexander 1.3)” (151). This is especially true for how a biography describes the character’s death. She surveys a wide range of ancient biographies which focuses on heroic “good deaths” of their characters. A good death is the crowning point of a virtuous life. A good death had a ripe old age may signal and endorsement of a philosopher’s way of life. However, there are a few philosophers who are remembered positively even though they met what an ancient reader might consider a “bad death” such as Socrates or Zeno. This is an obvious difference in Mark’s gospel. Mark does not describe Jesus’s death as noble or “conventionally honorable.” Rather, Mark portrays Jesus’s death as conforming to his countercultural teaching. Like a good philosopher, Jesus has a fitting death, which a fitting conclusion to his earlier way of life (250).

Craig Blomberg, Mark Strauss, and other evangelical writers conclude the genre of the Gospels is unique:  the Gospels are theological biographies. They contain historical data presented through a theological filter. Like all historical writers in the ancient world, the writers of the Gospels make selections from available material available. They record the events of Jesus life in order to make a theological points about him. For example, the Gospels present Jess as the Son of God, yet also fully human. They claim Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice for humanity. This makes historical, theological and literary study of the gospels legitimate, since all three of these genres combined in something of a unique fashion.

How does Blomberg’s description of the Gospels as “theological biographies” help us read the Gospels accurately? Is there anything missing this description that is important?


Bibliography.  The issue of the genre of the Gospels is covered by Craig Blomberg, Historical Reliability, 235-240; Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Intro 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, Vol. 2, ed. R. T. France and D. Wenham (Sheffield: JSNT, 1981) 9–60.

50 thoughts on “The Genre of the Gospels

  1. I think of the Gospels as collections of Jesus’ words and actions from the memories of his earliest followers, which they had reflected upon in light of the crucifixion and resurrection and shared with later believers.

  2. About to start teaching through the Gospels on Wednesday nights. This is a great intro to genre that I may just have to share with my students.

  3. I would agree that the Gospels seem to be a unique genre (based on a lot of study of them and about them). I haven’t completely figured out what to make of that or why it’s the case, much as I’ve explored it. As to the “why”, though, a couple factors: they were written in a period of extreme, rapid social/economic/political change. The loss of the war, for Jews everywhere but especially in and around Palestine, literally “changed everything” (much more than how that phrase is superficially used today) – economics (massive losses of life and livelihood and of “place”), governance (loss of all the organizational and treasury functions of the Temple, e.g.), religion (loss of sacrifices and priesthood), etc.

    A second factor, related, would be a period of high change and novelty (or invention) generally. Much of the Empire was in such a state, heightened by the Jewish unrest and then the war. The broader Jewish apocalyptic feeling and literature is part of this also… and reflected strongly in the Gospels, as also in Paul. It was far from a time of “business as usual” (though the Gospels seem, probably purposely, to convey “normalcy”, against the reality, but with hints showing through, e.g., in Mark 13 and its correspondence in Matt/Luke).

    Now, as to the historicity aspect, I feel you are strongly overstating it and downplaying what is pretty clearly non-historical in many, many places in all the Gospels. You are, it seems, granting Luke way too much honesty and straight-forwardness. He wants to make it SOUND like he’s an objective historian (by standards of his day… and perhaps he was comparable to others…. Josephus, though much more voluminous and detailed, was far from “fair and balanced” as well). Many volumes have been written both defending and “exposing” Luke’s historical (in)accuracy.

    In quick sum, no doubt he did some real “homework” to create a generally proper setting in time, people, and places for events, but there are many, many places even a careful lay reader can see his inventions and things like conflict with Paul’s writing on the same events – and wherein Paul’s account has to be given greater weight, in general. And THEN there is the “spin”…. I won’t go into what is well established among a wide range of NT scholars re. how Luke is deliberately creating a story of only minor early conflicts with ultimate resolution into a single unified “church” as led by the coming of the Holy Spirit (his theme)… whereas Paul’s and other inferred or slightly later material shows quite a different reality (seen even within the NT aside from Paul, such as the epistles of John).

    Now, the latter was more about Acts than Luke’s Gospel, but he claims the two are linked, as most scholars accept, and we can expect his approach and methods are basically the same.

    Anyway, the great bulk of all four Gospels are composed of places where the literary (dramatic story and effect, for example) and the theological blend and leave history almost fully out… beyond the few basics which do not, in themselves, carry much of a theological or “doctrinal” message. These few clear bare outline points do not establish even IF the historical Jesus claimed to be Messiah, for example, or if his “other kind of Kingdom” message and ethic alone was enough for the establishment of Israel/Rome to need him eliminated.

    Anyway, Phillip, I’m glad to see you addressing this issue and wonder if you plan to go into it in more depth in future posts… I hope so. I’m always trying to learn, even from places I’m likely to disagree with as much as agree.

  4. Phil, I have a fairly lengthy discussion of this in “Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus.” Generally, I think Greco-Roman biographies is write, with a mix of sacred history and apocalyptic worldview.

  5. Reblogged this on Stepping Toes and commented:
    We not only have to look at the Gospels as historical documents and eye witnesses to the events. The main part of the writers was to give an idea who Jesus was, what his teaching comprehended and to teach the world the importance of following those teachings of their master teacher. As Phillip J. Long writes, the Gospels should best be described as historical-theological documents.

  6. Knowing that the Gospels are all at once, historical, biographical, and theological helps us as readers to navigate the text more accurately and deeply. When we, instead, merely approach the text believing them to be one of the three aspects we miss out on the full meaning of the text. Truly, according to Mark L. Strauss, it is important in general to ask, “what are we reading?” (Strauss, 27). With this in mind, it brings to light why knowing that the Gospels are all three collectively is important. If we believe the Gospel to only be historical, then we miss out on the development of the plot and the lessons to learn or content to be believed (Krauss, 28-29). The only thing that could be added to Blomberg’s description is the acknowledgment that there is a difference between the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John, being that John is focused more on Jesus himself, while the Synoptics are focus more on the historical documentation of the events of the time of Jesus, along with Jesus (Klauss, 25). That being said, they all are historical, biographical, and theological to different extents.

    Mark L. Strauss, “Four Pourtraits, One Jesus”, 23-42.

  7. Blomberg’s description of the Gospels as “theologian biographies” is extremely helpful to us as we read through them. It uniquely encompasses the historical, theological, and literary aspects of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I think the in-depth description above clearly identifies the important facets in relating to the Gospels. Although some of the books may weigh more heavily in one aspect, such as you mentioned professor Long (and in Strauss’ book, Four Portraits, One Jesus, chapter 1) with the Gospel of John primarily being the more theological book out of the four. However, each book clearly owns pieces of each genre through it’s entirety. Overall, the most important thing to remember when reading or discovering the different genre’s of the gospels, is that each confirm Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God (Matthew 1:23, Mark 14:61-62, Luke 2:11, John 1:1).

  8. I see where Blomberg is coming from. I do agree that the gospels can be theological biographies, but, to me, I think that is taking away from other areas of the gospels as well. According to Mark L. Strauss he suggests, “The genre of the Gospels may be examined under three headings: history, narrative, and theology” (Strauss 27). Which Blomberg does say, but he also says that the history and narrative goes through a theology filter, which takes away some aspects of the Gospel. For me it the gospels should be looked at as historical, narrative, and theological not just theological biographies that filter the history of the gospels.

  9. I think it is important to understand the genre of any passages that we read, in this case the Gospels being considered “theological biographies”. However, I think this is more important for simple educational purposes, and not so much Scriptural purposes. What I mean is that when trying to gain a general knowledge of the Gospels, it is good to know the genre and characteristics of the books. Knowing that there are elements of both a biography and an theology book helps s to wrap our heads around them. But when it all comes down to it, our main desire as Christians when reading the Bible is to let God speak to us. Though knowing the genre is helpful, we can do so without knowing it.

  10. The Gospels are not merely a collection of abstract concepts about an unknowable God. Rather, they tell a vivid story by giving the reader an insider’s look into the life of the most influential Man in history. It is clear that the writers of the Gospels intended to present a factual, historically accurate retelling of events that happened in the life of Jesus in first-century Palestine. “Luke certainly claimed to be writing accurate history. . . The point here is that Luke’s intentions were historical” (Strauss 27; See Luke 1:1-4). With this in mind, we can understand the genre of the Gospels as being historical narrative.

    I would also agree with Dr. Long’s assertion that the Gospels “must be considered theological documents.” The Gospel authors clearly had a purpose in writing which influenced the events included and the language used, and this purpose varied from author to author. Each portrayed Jesus in a different way, painting a beautifully complex picture when the Gospels are compared side-by-side. Rather than simply coloring their narratives with the tint of their own presuppositions (as, frankly, all writers are apt to do), the Gospel writers carefully crafted their works to highlight different facets of Jesus’ person and position. Therefore, we would be remiss if we did not also acknowledge the genre of the Gospels as theological.

    Strauss condenses these two ideas into the classification of the Gospels as “historical narrative motivated by theological concerns” (Strauss 29). I feel that this correlates well with Blomberg’s description of “theological biographies” as both consider the historical and doctrinal purposes of the texts.

    Mark L. Strauss, “Four Portraits, One Jesus”

    • I realize the felt need of certain scholars and lay people to keep a strong connection of Jesus and historical fact. But it’s a lot more complicated, consciously (and threatening to many, largely UNconsciously) than we would like it to be. For example, I’m wondering on what basis you state, “It is clear that the writers of the Gospels intended to present a factual, historically accurate retelling of events that happened in the life of Jesus in first-century Palestine. “Luke certainly claimed to be writing accurate history. . . The point here is that Luke’s intentions were historical” (Strauss 27; See Luke 1:1-4)”.

      I presume you are basing your part of that quote on people like Strauss (as quoted, for example) and others (many of whom I’ve read, over many, many years, tho not Strauss). I’ve NOT found, in my more recent years of deeper study of and about the NT texts, that Luke’s claim, in effect, of “accurate history” to hold up. Yes, he’s the most historically-oriented NT author, and was writing what was the general style, within the general standards of their type of “history” at the time. But his “history” is a very selective, partial and (frankly) slanted one as to events and “truths” about the earliest “Church” (or Jesus-followers). Dating his work (important, as with the rest of the NT) cannot be precise, but confidently placed near or in at least the 80s and likely later, especially for Acts. (See my comments elsewhere re. the literally “changes everything” effects of the war and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70, generally not adequately factored in on several levels.)

      There are plenty of other indications, mostly right within the texts, that the other Gospels (besides Luke’s) are also almost certainly MORE concerned with effective drama and story-telling related to theological points than relating of historical events on the way to making theological points (or reflecting “biblical truth”… which also has to be defined as THAT is far from clear itself). Still (as I like to quickly add), we, whether “progressive” or “traditional”, can find a substantial and “godly” model and guideline for spiritual/moral life in what the Gospels present of Jesus. It is not an “all or nothing” kind of thing… and our grasping of nuances tends to increase with age and experience, if we allow it.

      Just one (for brevity) example of the point about “history” vs. literary device: Doesn’t the author of Matt, in ch. 27: 51-53, seem to NOT be concerned that these supposed events were apparently NOT verified elsewhere… probably with realization that his audience didn’t care? And, astounding as they were and highly memorable, that they were not even mentioned in another Gospel (that we now possess)? (He certainly had Mark and some earlier oral or written tradition he was working from, and most of that passage was not repeated by Luke or John either). And remember, this is just an example out of many potential ones, not any kind of “proof-text” unto itself.

      • Near the end, above, in saying “they” (events) were not mentioned in another Gospel, I just mean certain elements… for example, the supposed “rending of the veil of the temple” appears in all the Gospels, though with differing timing… a powerful symbolic/theological point but probably NOT an historical event (at least one never mentioned nor “refuted” by any Jewish, non-Christian author, whether Josephus or the bit-later rabbis).

      • Strauss is an easy target, something of a Crossan / Ehrman of a previous age. I apologize for using him as a straw man. But he is a particularly good straw man…

        You say you have not found “Luke’s claim, in effect, of “accurate history” to hold up,” which is something discuss from time to time with respect to the Book of Acts. In the Gospel, at least, we can at least see some of his historical method, since he does use sources (Mark and some Sayings Source, Q or Matthew). While there are unique elements in his Gospel (some parables, etc), for the most part his history coheres with Mark and Matthew. He does not create any wildly conflicting stories nor does he introduce serious contradictions of the earlier material. For the most part I think I would characterize him as faithful to the sources from which we know he drew. You might not agree, but I think this ought to count for some credit in reading Acts as history.

        You response is good, however, in reminding us of the literary (and theological) nature of the gospels. These books are not history in the modern sense of the word, and if we are going to apply the same standards of history writing we use for a modern history text, we will be disappointed. These are theological-literary-historical documents, and they served the need of the community for which they were written (an early Christian community, IMHO more Jewish than Nicean.

      • I don’t have a “reply” button under your comment of today (9-9) replying to mine and beginning “Strauss is an easy target…” So I’ll reply here. First, I realize your audience has a broad range, from relative novices in biblical studies to some of us with lots of formal and informal (self-directed) study. I try to make my comments for something in the middle, as you probably do your posts. In that spirit I won’t go into depth re. Luke and his writing.

        As you know, there is even less to “compare to” for Luke’s Acts than for his Gospel. Mainly just Paul’s epistles and potentially Josephus. The conflict areas between Acts and Paul on the same events or situations is much-explored in scholarship, as you know, but lay people don’t… or in any depth.

        On Josephus (as a source) and comparison point, Steve Mason in “Josephus and the New Test.” has a long chapter in which he examines possible incidents of Luke relying on Josephus. The evidence is not extensive, but he compiles enough cases with careful analysis to make a good case that Luke very likely used Josephus, perhaps as a significant source (there apparently wasn’t much else, at least known to us, aside from Roman legal and political records… almost nothing dealing with budding Christianity in the 1st century, other than Paul’s mostly localized letters, even including Josephus).

        To have used Josephus’ Antiquities (pertinent writing), forces Luke-Acts to at least the mid-90s, but nothing really mitigates against such a date, and many scholars put it that late for reasons fully aside from use of Josephus. And, in turn, this is important as an additional indication that Acts was a retrospective story of a period a few to several DECADES past (ending around mid 60s with no mention of Paul’s death, or Peter’s). Apparently Luke was both not an eyewitness of Jesus, and also likely not even an “eyewitness” of the Jerusalem Apostles (and likely not of Paul, despite the “we” sections). The Jeru. believers, IF they remained there and survived until the 69-70 starving out and destruction of the city, were killed or taken prisoner. They may have fled prior but Luke gives us no info on it, nor indication he was with any of them.

        So, as far as we know, he had mostly handed-down tradition to go on, beyond verifiable dates, politicians and places, and LOTS of room (from our perspective and probably the time of his immediate audience as well) to spin a relatively few “facts” in whatever way he wanted. The examples from comparing his way of presenting Paul in relation to James and Peter with Paul’s own I have to say indicate a serious “idealizing” of the facts, at the very least.

  11. “Identification is not always so easy, and it is possible to misidentify literary genres” (Strauss 26). The case of misidentifying genres can be detrimental in reading any form of literature, especially in reading the Gospels in this case. Bloomberg’s description of the genre of the Gospels as a “theological biography” can help a reader significantly identify the genre. If you can identify with the type of literature you are reading, you can comprehend the literature more accurately. The stories in the Gospel contain three forms of genres; historical, when referring to Jesus birth (Luke 2) etc. Biographical, as referring to Jesus’ life, and theological, they all point towards the kingdom of God (Matthew 3:2). The only thing that Bloomberg’s description is missing is the fact that the account of John is much more focused on the life of Jesus, and how it is not synoptic as the other three gospels are. Nonetheless even John contains all three forms of Genre inside of it.

  12. Well, the genre of a piece of literature obviously affects the way we read something. We read a fiction book much different than a non-fiction book. So clearly identifying the genre of the gospels is very important.

    Blomberg’s genre, “theological biographies” makes a lot of sense to me. They are stories about the life of one man, but they are clearly and definitely created with a theological purpose: to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Strauss made the point that the Gospels were edited, and additions and omissions were made (61) to drive home certain points. A simple biographical or historical account of Jesus would not be so redacted.

  13. The genre of any book you read is important to know I think before you read it. It changes how you are assuming things might play out in the book or things you think could possibly happen. So it seems that knowing whether a book is fantasy or non-fiction is very important. The Gospels definitely seem to be historical-theological documents and that is good background to know. We need to know what we are reading and why we are reading it.

  14. I think that describing the genre of the Gospels is very important to know before reading them because it sets up a complete mind set and understanding from the start. Not only does this identification help us to know what to expect, but it gives us a unique lens to look through which will help us to interpret the true meaning of them. This also helps us to find the true purpose of the Gospels which is to show many different perspectives of Jesus and his redemptive work for all of us.

    I think this explanation of the Gospels is a great classification because it contains the “historical, theological and literary study”. These are three very unique perspectives to look at which apart would leave out a lot of meaning. For example, if we were to look at the gospels as just historical, there would be a lot of meaning but we would miss the theological background and miss the overall meaning of them. But without the historical aspect, we wouldn’t understand the magnitude of many theological teachings throughout.

  15. The only time I ever used the word ‘genre’ was when I was discussing the topics of music and different song styles. I hadn’t ever thought of books in the Bible having different genres. I do not fully understand why exactly the Gospels need to be put in a certain genre, I assume it somehow helps to understand the books better. Obviously the Gospels should be understood as a part of history, unless of course they are thought of as fiction. In this case they are not fiction, therefore according to the definition of the word ‘history’ the Gospels would be categorized as historical. Calling the Gospels biographies is also a true statement. Knowing that the Gospels were written by real life people, with real human characteristics is helpful when trying to reading the Gospels accurately.

    • Two thoughts, Marksjoerdsma: There is actually a LOT of importance to a fairly wide variety of genres of literature in the Bible… Phillip has just touched lightly on it re. the Gospels. There’s a lot to learn about re. Acts and history-writing of the time also, as just one key example. Then there is Revelation, which is so enigmatic partly because of the apocalyptic genre (i.e., don’t be looking for clues to its literal fulfillment!).

      Second, if one is at an early stage of needing either-or kinds of simplicity, I understand. But upon reading the Gospels each separately (without pulling in wording or elements from the others mentally) and THEN reading each of them “up next to” the others (or comparatively… with literally 4 parallel columns if necessary), it’s impossible to sort out the real “history” in many, often important, situations…. Key example being about Resurrection appearances.

  16. The genre is certainly important. But there must be a broader understanding which includes the purpose and time and place of writing… as close as we can get to it. That is one reason the dating work of scholars is important…. particularly that of dating all the Gospels, at earliest in 70 C.E. (Mark, possibly) and all but possibly Mark at least a few to several years AFTER. I’m out of time but if anyone is not educated in some depth on it, it is critical to spend a bit of time learning about the revolt/war against Rome, the 69-70 C.E. starving out and destruction of Jerusalem AND the Temple, and what the implications of this massive national/economic/cultural/religious event were…. INDISPENSABLE!

  17. It is important that we read the gospels with the understanding that each book is not one specific genre; but rather Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have biographical, historical, and theological aspects to them. If we have this understanding about genre, then we will have deeper insights into the text. Strauss asks the questions “are they historical accounts meant to pass on factual information? Are they theological documents meant to teach biblical truths?” (Strauss 27). These questions are important to ask when reading, because if we know the context of the book then we will know what to look for, whether it is biblical truth or historical facts or a narrative of someone’s life. The gospels are interesting to read because they cover all of these aspects in each book, even if one aspect is more heavily focused on; like John, whose book is mostly focused on theology rather than a narrative of Jesus’ life. All three aspects are important to our understanding of the life of Jesus’ and his teachings. We gain historical facts, biblical truths, and a narrative account of Jesus’ life by recognizing the different genres in the gospels.

  18. On the issue of defining the genre of the Gospels, there are many routes one could take. One could agree with Craig Blomberg in that the genre is completely unique. Or, one could simply call the genre “religious texts” and lump the Gospels in with the sacred books of other religions. One could also describe the Gospels as a mix of many different types of genres (after all, the Gospels certainly do have biographical elements, memoir elements [specifically in the book of John], and elements of historical, theological, prophetic, apocalyptic, proverbial, self-help, tragic, redemptive, moral, philosophical, and many more genres), and perhaps even go so far as to take individual chapters of the Gospels and assign them each their own genre.

    However, the main problem with trying to definitively assign a genre to the Gospels is that it is an example of earthly beings trying to use earthly terms to describe extra-earthly things. Trying to contain the Gospel texts in a “genre box” is almost like describing God Himself as a “ghost superhero”. Maybe it sounds interesting (and semi-semi-accurate), but ultimately God is so much more than any human words could describe Him as.

    Despite the difficulty in nailing down how exactly to literarily define the Gospels, it is important to at least assign some very broad literary terms to the Gospels, to – as the other blog post regarding the importance of the Gospel’s genre mentions – to understand the text as clearly as possible, and to confuse the reader as little as possible. Perhaps the best description of the Gospel’s genre is found in very broad, wordy descriptions rather than succinct literary terms that – though not as neat as many would prefer – will at least set a new reader up with a proper mindset going in. For example, the Gospel texts could be described as “true accounts of Jesus, events, and beliefs written for historical, theological, and teaching purposes” rather than simply calling them – for example – biographies.

    Or, if you prefer using very powerful and thought-provoking statements as much as God does, you could simply respond to the question of the Gospel’s genre by saying, “They Are what They Are”. Just watch out for stones…

    • “They are what they are” is more or less dodging the question. you could say “God inspired them so don’t worry about it,” but that does not really answer any questions when you observe there are similarities to other Greco-Roman literature.

  19. This topic is very interesting to me because growing up I was taught that the gospels were significantly just recordings of Jesus life here on earth, but reading more into it over the years and now in this class I have noticed that there is so much more to it than just stories of Jesus. It not only talks about Jesus and what he did as a human on this earth, but it also dives into cultural norms, different perspectives of Jesus, etc. According to Strauss, there are three main headings that the gospels can be described under: historical, narrative, and theological (Strauss, 2020).

    The first way we can read the gospels is in a historical sense. When we read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we know that the authors did not just come up with these stories and events on their own. They used the resources around them to compose the content correctly and accurately. The authors also used historical context to build their writings because in order for the reader to understand the text they must “enter into the world in which they were written” (Strauss, 2020, p. 33). We must gain knowledge of the world in Bible times to understand fully what the author is writing about.

    These books also can be viewed as a narrative. Although they are not just stories but true events, they are written in a story form for us to read. Each chapter and book are written with a plot, characters, settings, and many other things that a normal story would contain. Through a narrative lens we also see different perspectives of the stories. Each chapter of the gospels views the same events just a bit differently, however, still all being correct. This allows the read to gain even more insight (Strauss, 2020).

    Finally, we can look at the gospels theologically. These books are just as much about encouraging and instructing believers and bringing unbelievers to Christ as it is about telling stories and learning history. By teaching about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus it brings believers even closer to God and brings new believers to a place of growth (Strauss, 2020).

  20. Blomberg’s description of the Gospels as theological biographies help us read the Gospels accurately by giving us context. I really like this breakdown because when I was young I just viewed the Bible as the story of Jesus, before I really got a good understanding of how deep it was. If someone were to read the Gospels and just look at them as a biography, they would be missing the point. They would miss all the theological aspects that we as Christians build our beliefs off of today. They would see it as any other historical novel, like one that one might see for a president. If someone were to just look at the theological parts of the Gospels they would miss the human parts. What I mean by that is the aspects of the book that prove the Bible is real and accurate. There are so many parts in the Bible that proves the accuracy through family lineage and connecting different groups of people. Something that I think could be missing in this description is the breakdown of each book. As it said in this blog post, they all have some aspects of both, but some more than others. I feel this is so important to differentiate because if someone was looking for only historical content, I would suggest they do not look at the Gospel of John since it is the most theological.

  21. I think it is interesting to describe the Gospels as theological biographies. I have always thought of them as a historical account of the life of Jesus. However, as stated above they do contain historical data through a theological filter. Therefore, I think Blomberg’s description helps us understand the Gospels because it focuses more on the character of Jesus than the events going on around him. In order to read the Bible accurately we must focus on the main character of the Gospels, Jesus Christ himself. This view helps us understand the journey Jesus had to take and the persecution he faced while doing so. This description explains the importance in understanding that the death of Jesus was an atoning sacrifice for humanity. If we read Jesus’ death as historical, rather than a theological biography, I think this can cause us to skip over his death. It causes us to read it more as a historical event than the sacrifice that changed all mankind and gave Christian’s hope and a means of salvation. The only thing missing from this description is explaining why the middle portion of Jesus’ life was not included in the Gospels. A biography usually includes a person’s childhood through adult years. I think a description of why it can still be considered a biography and only include a small view into Jesus’ life on earth is important.

  22. Strauss (2020) emphasizes the point that the four gospels in the Scriptures, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written with the purpose of spreading the good news of salvation that is available through Jesus. They reach this goal by providing not only historical information of who Jesus was as a man, but also who he is as God. The gospels are not just records of Jesus’ history and background, but also serve to instruct believers, to assure them of their faith, to call others to faith, among other things (Strauss, 2020). When we read the gospels, we ought to not just think of it as a story of a dead person but look how it shows us truths about our living God who is alive. He is our Messiah, the suffering Son of God, the Savior for all people, and the eternal Son who reveals the Father. They are indeed “theological biographies”, but they are also more. They are designed to bring us to a deeper level of understanding, and therefore into a deeper relationship with God. The point is not solely a “biography”, but as the article mentions, to use those true historical facts about Jesus’ life to prove theological truths about Jesus as our Savior. By doing so, it accomplishes the planting of the seeds of faith along with the nurturing and growth of faith. The gospels are unique to the Scriptures and ought to be appreciated.
    Strauss, Mark L. Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels. Zondervan Academic, 2020.

  23. Sometimes people go out of their way to pursue a specific genre they enjoy reading. The Bible can be seen as a combination of these genres (historical, narrative, and theological) and it adds to the uniqueness of Biblical literature. Personally, during my faith journey as a Christian, it never occurred to me to look at the specific genre of the Gospels – it never seemed as something extremely important to me. However, while reading the first chapter of Strauss and the blog post on the topic by Phil Long, the importance began to become clear. As Strauss explains in, “Four Portraits, One Jesus,” he explains that each gospel paints a unique picture of who Jesus Christ was. When the reader of the gospels grasps the concept of what genre the gospel they’re reading is, they have a better understanding of the information being conveyed whether that be to pass on factual information about Jesus and/or to teach spiritual truths as a theological document (Strauss 33). Although there may be conflicting views on which genre should be crowned over the Gospels, in my opinion it is more beneficial to look at the gospel through the lens of each genre to really grasp an understanding of them through a different lens. As mentioned in the blog post and Strauss text, the title of “a historical document that is motivated by theological concerns,” (Strauss 36) is an appropriate explanation of the genre. The Gospel is the greatest story ever told and this is why they were written by evangelists to announce the message of Christ. Looking at the text from the different genre lenses can help the evangelists in their quest to spread the news.

  24. The Gospels are a huge part of learning about Jesus. The Gospels help us learn and understand who Jesus is and learn about His life and His ministry. Almost everything we know about Jesus and His life comes from either Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. I think that it is important to know the genres of the Gospels especially when you are diving deeper into them and trying to understand them better. I think it’s interesting how many different opinions there are about the genre of the Gospels; the one that makes the most sense us definitely Blomberg. Blomberg is absolutely right when he says the Gospels are unique. He describes them as being theological biographies which is a great way of understanding that they have multiple layers to them, because the Gospels are historical, biographical, and theological this is something to take into consideration while reading through the Gospels because if you just focus on the historical aspect of the Gospels you’ll miss out on the deeper meaning that would be revealed if you tried your best to focus on all three. Overall I think that Blomberg’s way of explaining the “genre” of the Gospels will be very beneficial not only to this class but in general when I’m diving into the Gospels trying to learn more about Jesus and His ministry, like already mentioned focusing on the historical, biographical and theological aspects will help people understand the Gospels better than just focusing on one.

  25. When first opening up a bible we may not think about what type of genre each book may be. Strauss makes a very bold statement in chapter one that is clear and direct on how to view the Gospels, when trying to figure out a genre. In order for us as readers to understand the Gospels we must ask ourselves what it is that we are reading, what kind of documents are these, and lastly what sort of information are they meant to convey? (Strauss, 2020). When talking about the Gospels Strauss points out that there are actually three types of genres which are history, narrative, and theology. Luke 1:1- 4 was a very important scripture mentioned in our text and in the above article because in this passage it talks about knowing the certainty of things. Strauss mentioned the correct way or the most effective way to read the Gospels is in a vertical way. This is where we are reading each book in order to follow the right order of events. But when talking about the history and asking those historical questions it is also important to read harmonistically. This is beneficial because overall these books are labeled as historical narratives so it is helpful to investigate from another perspective.

    • Hi Zyan,
      When we are new to the Faith or are younger, we often do not think about what this book is about, we just read. Although this is good and has its benefits; when you understand the background of what you are reading, it makes a world of difference. Not only will you probably enjoy it more, but it will be more impactful in your faith journey. That is why some people turn from the faith because they think they understand what they are reading, but they really do not.

  26. As Strauss says in “Four Portraits, One Jesus”, “the four unique gospels testify to one gospel – the good news of salvation available through Jesus the Messiah” (30). Are the four books different in several ways, of course, they were written by different people who each had different accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. However, knowing the gospels at a deeper level, such as knowing what type of genre they are, will only deepen your understanding of the word. Blomberg argues that the gospel is historical literature; stating, that “they record the events of Jesus’ life to make theological points about him” (Long). Strauss gives three ways that support Blomberg’s argument, “they have a history of composition, they are set in a specific historical context, and they are meant to convey accurate historical information” (33).
    The gospels did not just fall from the sky. The authors wrote with a purpose, drawing on traditions and sources available to them at the time of writing. They are also set in a specific historical context; first-century Palestine during the period of Roman occupation. As outsiders, we do not understand what is happening to believe who believed that Jesus Christ was the son of God. When we dig deeper into the genre of the gospels, we do, and our eyes begin to open and the story becomes even more powerful. Lastly, they are accurate events of the life of Jesus Christ, not fairy tales to try to peak the interest of their audience. Everything written in the gospels, and the Bible as a whole, is true and God-breathed (2 Tm. 3:16). John professes the accuracy of his account saying, “this is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). So, we should read the gospels as such, and let them move us because after all, it is proclaiming “good news”.

  27. Growing up, I always considered the Gospels and the Bible as a historical recollection of Jesus’ life. But I feel that had more to do with what I was taught and how I perceived what was being said. Strauss explains that the Gospels as a whole don’t really make up one genre but three, history, narrative, and theology. After reading the first chapter of the required text I can see where this statement could be true. There is historical context behind the events and stories, they tend to follow a storyline including characters and plots, and they can be considered theological because they were written to instruct and encourage believers throughout their faithful journey. Strauss also points out that each Gospel had its own way of writing. John for example is considered more theological than the rest because of the writings concerning Jesus’ identity and His purpose, whereas Matthew has more structured and clear-cut lessons and teaching points that believers and readers can draw on. That all being said, I agree that finding one genre that fits the Gospels as a whole is hard and, in some ways, impossible, they all tell their story differently and through different writing styles.

  28. The Gospels were written in three different genres historical, narrative, and theological (Strauss, 2020). All four of the books were written from different perspectives but all four together complete the picture of who Jesus is. They all go through a timeline of Jesus’ life. I agree with your statement (P.Long) “one cannot approach these documents without getting into the question of who Jesus is…” It is also great to see the different types of writings each author had. I remember learning that Luke came from a medical background, therefore he emphasized more medical terms in his message. Luke 5:31 states, “And Jesus answered them, ‘those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick, I have come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance’”. I think is important to take into account the author’s background because it will influence their writings. By having different genres we can have a wider audience. I also believe it would be impossible to bring together the entire Scripture into one genre because of the many different writing styles. Some readers might understand and resonate with one author better than the other.

    Strauss, M. L. (2020). Four portraits, one jesus: A survey of jesus and the gospels. Zondervan Academic.

  29. I really like the interpretation of the Gospels as Jesus’ biography because when we really look and read the four Gospels, they are all slightly unique in their own way however, they all bear the same underlying theme about the historical narrative motivated by Jesus’ life and theological concerns. These underlying themes help us readers comprehend the Gospel much easier and a lot more accurately. According to Strauss, the best way to interpret the Gospels is to understand the “historical literature” (Strauss 33) method, which breaks down the biography of Jesus’ life into three pivotal points. By addressing the composition, historical context, and the accuracy of the information the reader is able to fully understand the biography and teachings that Jesus performed throughout His ministry; Looking at His life involves more themes besides it being Theological. The Synoptic Gospels allow for human narrative, history, and theology all to become one central theme which is better understood as the biography of Jesus. I really like what P.Long mentions in the blog post stating that “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” (P.Long). I think this is the best response for this blog post because when most people look at the Bible, they just think of the cliche story of Jesus and how He walked on water… However, it is much deeper than that when one understands who, where and what Jesus was doing in the context of these Gospels; only then will one appreciate and correctly interpret these stories.

  30. Madison, for personal context, I was raised and continued an “orthodox”/ traditional and devoted Christian till age 45 (I’m now 72)… deeply educated in the Bible and theology, including Christian college and seminary (Biola U, MDiv, Talbot), and well beyond, including apologetics with the late Walter Martin.

    Recent decades of my biblical studies and personal orientation toward God have led me away from many of the speculative aspects of the theological side of the Gospels and rest of the NT. That especially includes the “penal substitutionary atonement” theory of Jesus’ highly impactful death. While less common, than just “going along” with a key prominent view, such challenges to “PSA” have been pursued by many faithful, careful theologians. I’d encourage you to check some of them out. The blog of the late Kem Pulliam at FormerFundy dot blogspot dot com, has a vast set of articles on this, with many, many references, well organized.

  31. When understanding the Gospels it is important to understand what historical and cultural events in the original context prompted the author to write in the way that they do. If one is uncertain as to what led the author to write the Gospels in the first place or why they write the Gospel in the way they did, this may lead to misinterpreting scripture. Blomberg’s description of the Gospels as “theological biographies” helps one understand the original concepts and ideas of the author in their specific historical and cultural situation which led to the creation of the Gospels. Each writer shows the story of Jesus in its history a little differently in order to accomplish their theological point of view(Blomberg,1981). John for example gives record of Jesus’ miracles and ministry so that one might come to believe Jesus as “the Christ the Son of God(John 20:31).

  32. I believe that the Gospels along with the Bible are a historical aspect of the life of Jesus. The Gospel is teaching us about the history about the life of Jesus but as well as showing us different cultural aspects from that were going on during the time of Jesus. Strauss puts it simply as that the Gospels are not meant to be focused in one specific genre of literature but three separate genres, historical, narrative, and theology. By breaking down each Gospel we will see that there are historical stories that are taking place that are giving context to what is going on. These historical events are following a storyline that include dates and characters that are present. The Gospels are also narrative writings because they are following Jesus and explaining what He is going through and what He is doing through it. These events in the Gospels are also apart of theology because it is showing us the ministry that Jesus is presenting to the people. Strauss also explains that the four Gospels are not written the same as well. Each Gospel has its own unique way of writing that will show each different aspects of these 3 genres but put differently

  33. I agree with your comment on it being beneficial to look at the Gospels through each genre. We get caught up on trying to place things in specific groups and by looking through the lens of each genre we can see that they all work.

  34. I like how you broke down how each Gospel shows us the purpose and possible genre of writing that may fit it. Like you said, finding a specific genre for the Gospels will be a challenge we must remember that we do not have to confine Gods word into genres and appreciate them for what they are, the life of Jesus and his ministry.

  35. I just commented on “Reading the Gospels as History” with the heavy push for the gospels as historical, but that doesn’t stop me from fully agreeing with them equally being very theological in nature. What I love about how they “contain historical data presented through a theological filter” is that on top of reading these and being able to get a great understanding of the history and context of these events, we also get some tangible pieces of theology about Christianity as a whole based on what these authors wrote. We get things that point toward a Trinity, Jesus as both man and God, the miraculous power of God in Jesus, and especially the simplicity of salvation and faith in Christ. All of these extremely vital pieces of Christianity and our theology are threaded throughout these historical documents and ‘biographies’ on Jesus. Rather than just a list of this theology, we have an account of Jesus living and speaking it all out and we are able to take that word and see it living and active in our faith throughout our life in modern day Christianity. That’s what makes the Bible different from other historical pieces of information as well as making it stand out somewhat from many other religions’ sources of theology.

  36. n explaining what the Gospels are, I think it is important to know that first it is to help us understand and know Jesus Christ. There are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and they all tell the story of Jesus’ ministry while he was on earth. The first three Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels” because they all tell Jesus’ earthly life and ministry in a comparable way. John’s Gospel, however, “is the most theological of the four…the Gospels are known as historical-theological documents (P. Long). Historical-theological documents are how we interpret and study scripture. These considered documents are important because they show what the creator saw during that time and what happened.

  37. In explaining what the Gospels are, I think it is important to know that first it is to help us understand and know Jesus Christ. There are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and they all tell the story of Jesus’ ministry while he was on earth. The first three Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the “Synoptic Gospels” because they all tell Jesus’ earthly life and ministry in a comparable way. John’s Gospel, however, “is the most theological of the four…the Gospels are known as historical-theological documents (P. Long). Historical-theological documents are how we interpret and study scripture. These considered documents are important because they show what the creator saw during that time and what happened.

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