John P. Meier, The Marginal Jew,
v. 1, Sources: The Canonical Books of the New Testament,
pp 43-47

(Detailed summary)

What is the date of the Gospels and their source?

  • Modern research considers Mark's Gospel to be the first to be written using collections of oral and possibly written traditions; it is believed to date from the 70s.

  • Matthew and Luke worked independently of each other between the 80s and 90s and combined the Gospel of Mark, which they reworked, with another source that biblical scholars call Q (from the German word Quelle, meaning "source"). To this they each added their own source.

  • John seems not to know the other three Gospels and relies on an independent source. His presentation, so different from the ministry of Jesus, cannot be explained otherwise.

  • In summary, the four Gospels give us three main sources: Mark, Q and John. On this point there is agreement among the majority of biblical scholars. However, even if J.P. Meier does not allude to it at all, I find it necessary to mention here the work of M.E. Boismard o.p. who believes he recognizes a special source in Luke and John, which he calls the proto-Luke. For example, how can we explain passages unique to Luke and John, such as the account of that miraculous catch with Jesus (John 21, Luke 5), if not by a source that is their own?

  • Paul of Tarsus, on the other hand, is not very useful in the knowledge of the historical Jesus. Even if he is almost contemporary to Jesus, he is not very interested in the details of his life, but focuses his thoughts on his death and resurrection. On a few occasions in his letters there are allusions to what Jesus would have taught (the question of divorce, or support for the missionaries, or the words of the Lord's Supper), but it is rather a question of teaching the general idea of what Jesus meant.

Next chapter: Are there testimonies on the existence of Jesus outside of Christian texts?

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