A brief summary of genres present in the gospels

The Sayings of Jesus

  • Authoritative Sayings—Most of these seem to have been collected in the Q source and are then configured in different ways in Mt and Lk (and to a lesser extent Mk) in order to either comment on a story in some way or, in the case of the SM for example, are collected into Jesus’ longer teaching sections.
    • Logia (wisdom sayings)—“The eye is the lamp of the body,” “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out,” etc.
    • Prophetic and Apocalyptic Sayings—Brief sayings that proclaim the arrival of the Reign of God, call for repentance, promise salvation, and threaten the unrepentant.  Examples include the description of the coming era (Matt. 11:5-6/Luke 7:22-23), the Beatitudes, the destruction of the Temple, the “woes” to the Pharisees and scribes in Mt 23.
    • Legal sayings and Church rules—these sayings deal with topics like purity, divorce, prayer, giving to the poor, fasting, etc.
    • Parables

Narrative Material

  • Controversy and Teaching Dialogues—Both of these serve a teaching function but the context (controversy vs. genuine questioning for enlightenment or more neutral questioning rather than obvious wrangling)
    • Controversy stories—Usually with scribes and Pharisees
      • Occasioned by Jesus’ healings—e.g. Mk 3:1-6, the healing of the math with the withered hand.  Jesus’ saying, “is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil?” (v. 4) cannot be isolated from the rest of the story.
      • Occasioned by conduct of Jesus or the disciples—Mk 2:23-28 (plucking grain on the Sabbath)
    • Teaching Dialogues
      • The Master is questioned—Mk 10:17-31 (the Rich young man), Mt 24:3 (“When will the and what will be the sign of your coming and the close of the age?”), Jn 9:2 (“Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”)
      • Questions asked by opponents—Mk 10:2-12 (Divorce), “Whose wife will she be at the Resurrection?”, etc.
  • Miracle Stories—these include various healings, exorcisms, raising the dead, and nature miracles
    • Healings—e.g. Mk 1:21, the healing in the synagogue; or  This usually contains four parts:
      • 1) The condition is described (often duration or severity is highlighted), 2) the healing, 3) the witnesses marvel and the healed one gives a clear demonstration that he or she is healed (in exorcisms the demons do something naughty)
    • Nature miracles—e.g. Mk 4:37-41, calming the storm, etc.  “The miraculous deeds are not proofs of his character but of his messianic authority, or his divine power” (Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 219)
    • Exorcisms—Mk 5 (the Gerasene demoniac), etc. Usually have a similar structure to healings (and there is often overlap because demons in the NT make people ill, they don’t make them do evil things, contrary to our idea of being “possessed”) but these stories show Jesus’ authority over the supernatural world (as nature miracles show his authority over the natural world).
    • “Personal” miracles—Feeding of the Thousands, Walking on the Water. These stories usually highlight Jesus’ character (generally, like “merciful,” or his similarity to OT figures like Moses or David or Elijah) or his status as superhuman Son of God, worthy of awe.
  • Narrative Stories
    • Biographical stories—birth, the baptism, transfiguration, post-resurrection stories. These lend a biographical framework and also are points for each of the Gospel authors to emphasize some aspect of his understanding of who Jesus is.
    • Travel/action passages or summaries— “And Jesus left that place and traveled…..” “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity,” etc. These provide the narrative “stitching” that links the longer stories into a continuous narrative.
    • The Passion narratives—The sequence and details of the events recorded in these (at least up through the burial) are so similar that this must have come together very early on in the oral tradition as the core story of the early church and the center of its preaching.
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