LDS view of New Testament construction
The following is a portion of the transcript from the most recent episode from the churchistrue Faith Crisis and Reconstruction podcast series. Please let me know if you’re listening and what you think. In the passage, I review some scholarship related to the New Testament gospels and provide some quotes from several LDS BYU scholars.
The first gospel that came was Mark that came around 65 to 70 AD. It was written in Greek. It was written by someone who was not an eyewitness of Jesus’s life. It was not Mark in the New Testament.
In Mark’s gospel, the whole thing lasts less than a year. We think of the ministry of Jesus taking three years, but Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism and ends with the week in Jerusalem and his crucifixion. The ending of Mark is interesting in that the original ending ended with Mark chapter 16, verse 8, that was kind of a surprise ending that the tomb is empty. And then the rest of Mark 16, where you had witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, that was added on a couple of hundred years later.
Matthew is the next gospel that came about 10 years later, 75 to 80. And Luke also came about in the same time period or maybe later.
What scholars believe Matthew and Luke were doing, was that they had two sources available. They think they had Mark because they’re repeating Mark, in a way that’s obvious that they had the gospel of Mark and they were repeating it. And then they also had another source that seems obvious that they were using because they were quoting another source because there’s overlap where both Matthew and Luke used and quoted this other source. And this source is known as Q.
What scholars believe Q is, is a text that was written that probably predates Mark. That was the first Christian text that was simply a book of sayings. Jesus was known for teaching in two different styles, aphorisms, which are like one liners, like “blessed are the meek for, they shall inherit the earth” or “come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. These are aphorisms. And then also parables. And so Q is believed to be a source that contain all of Jesus’ sayings, all of his teachings, these aphorisms and parables. But most likely not any narrative, not any storyline of, of the things that Jesus was doing. Just simply his teachings.
And then Mark was the first text that added narrative and then Luke and Matthew took Q and took Mark to further develop these stories and narrative into the gospels that we have. Now it’s very possible that these narratives existed in oral format all through these three decades after Jesus died up until Mark was written, but it’s just unknown exactly how much these stories and narrative were known and told and shared in the Christian community.
Trevon Hatch is a BYU professor that wrote a book Strangers in Jerusalem, and he’s doing a YouTube series that has a lot of good information. Trevon Hatch makes a point that the gospels are using Old Testament passages and fitting these Old Testament passages into the New Testament narrative. For example, in Matthew 27: 35 and also in Luke and John, the people divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots. And that is a quote of Psalm 22:18 that says “they part my garments among them and cast lots upon my vesture”.
Hatch gives a couple of theories of how this might happen. One is possibly a more skeptical view, which is that the writers of the New Testament wanted to prove that the Old Testament prophecies were concerning Jesus Christ. And so they use lots of Old Testament passages all through the narrative that they were writing to embed old Testament prophecies to make it show that Jesus is the culmination of these prophecies.
But then another more faithful, traditional religious view might be that God is orchestrating this in a way that God is inspiring the author of Psalms to write in this way, and then orchestrating the actual narrative of Jesus’s life so that it plays out so that these prophecies are true. Thomas Wayment talks about this idea of Mark quoting another source that Merck’s Greek is not very good.
He’s got some grammar issues, but then when he’s quoting this other source and giving the sayings of Jesus, it’s a different type of Greek. He says,
But then when he quotes Jesus, there’s a different tone of the Greek. It’s a different way he writes it. I guess I hadn’t really seen first-person, this idea that there were the sayings of Jesus, and Mark has access to those and he adopts those. But he’s clearly writing the story to linearly develop that. Matthew comes along, obviously, and says, “I don’t really think you got the linear order quite right. I think it needs to be revised,” and Luke does even further. That really drove home to me that there’s a sense that the sayings of Jesus are what this is about, but now they’re trying to make sense of those.
Another point that kind of illustrates this as in one of our Book of Mormon episodes, when we talked about how BYU professor Royal Skousen, and said that he sees the Sermon on the Mount as a conglomeration, meaning the Sermon on the Mount might not be a literal event that happened exactly the way that it’s written in the New Testament and likewise in the Book of Mormon, but that it’s a conglomeration of sayings that were injected into a storyline that may or may not have happened the way that they did on the Sermon on the Mount.
Then we have John, John comes in even later around 90, 95 AD.
And John is really interesting. In Mark, Matthew, and Luke Jesus is called the Son of God and he performs miracles, but he doesn’t call himself the Messiah in public only in private to the apostles. And this is called the messianic secret. But then in John, he is openly pronouncing himself as God, right off the bat.
Jesus is the Word and the Word was made flesh. He says, I am that I am. He says, I am the way, the truth and the life, the points of the parables in the synoptic gospels, they call Mark Matthew and Luke the synoptic gospels, because they’re very similar. The point of the parables and those gospels is to share teachings and doctrine and to point to how to live righteously. And what’s the right way to understand the world and to live.
The point of the parables in John is to show that he is God. To testify that he’s the Son of God. He talks to the woman at the well and ends the story with, “I am living water”. That’s the Jesu in John, and it’s very different. And this is why Nick Frederick, in our previous episode on the Book of Mormon talks about how the Jesus in the Book of Mormon is Johannine Jesus. It’s a very high Christology Jesus.
Ninety percent of John is unique. He didn’t do the same technique that Matthew and Luke did of kind of copying other sources. Some of the events in John are a little different. For example, Jesus was crucified on a Thursday night not Friday because at 6:00 PM on Thursday night, the week of the Passover is when the lambs are slain in the temple. And the author of John wants to make the point that Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice by correlating those two events.
John also makes a point to really poke fun at the apostles and show that they didn’t understand. The reason is that Jesus is pronouncing himself, the son of God, over and over. But the apostles just obviously don’t get it because when he dies, they’re not understanding the point of his death and crucifixion and resurrection. They’re not understanding any of that. So John is really poking fun at the apostles here, and they’re kind of displaying how dumb they are to not understand this.
Thomas Wayment says,
I think Mormonism, but most faith traditions, believe Jesus has a continual view of atonement in mind from day one as a twelve-year-old young man, and maybe even earlier that from Luke 2 forward, he knows he has his Father’s mission in mind.
You look at historical Jesus, he may have been crucified unaware. That “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabacthani” on the cross might be “Why didn’t you rescue me from this cross?” Those are stunningly different. Is it possible that Jesus did save mankind, redeemed mankind, but was not fully aware of where it was going?
I just remember still even the class where it happened, where my professor said simply, “‘Eli, Eli, Lama Sabacthani’ is frustration. My God, my God, why have you left me here alone?” It’s a cry of, “God, I thought the millennium happened now. I thought redemption was you taking me down.”
I don’t think so many people, or very many people, ever think was Jesus as surprised by Easter as Mary was. That’s a really powerful nuance and you can see why the story, and you become very aware of this in New Testament studies, the gospels are not as sanitized as you would expect. They leave a lot of remnants of the historical person navigating his own experience.