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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:3, Fall 2022

Epistles: The Origins of the Gospels

By Robyn Faith Walsh

Biblical Archaeology Review

We should not take anything for granted when investigating the beginnings of early Christian history. This includes our best source of information on Jesus’s life and teachings—the Gospels themselves.1

Traditional academic approaches to the canonical Gospels—the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—tend to emphasize that they were produced by and for specific Christian communities. References to the “Markan” or “Matthean” churches, for example, are commonplace. Differences between various gospels are often scrutinized as evidence for each group’s unique perspective or collective identity.

This understanding of Christian origins suggests that the gospel authors served as literate spokespersons tasked with recording oral stories that their fellow Christians had passed down over generations. While some scholars propose that the gospel writers may have read portions of one another’s work, others look to similarities between the Gospels as confirmation that there was a common source for these texts, if not in the historical Jesus, then perhaps in some long-lost, written collection of Jesus’s sayings.a Still, the central focus of these studies is that the gospel writers served as documentarians for their respective Christian communities.

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