Something to reflect on during Easter , , . . .

What is a Gospel?

A Gospel is not a life of Christ, not a biography or a history.The oral Gospel begins with Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom (AD 28-30).

Then there is the apostles’ oral proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus (about AD 30-65).

Then come the attempts to preserve their proclamation in writing (about AD 65-100), after the death of the apostles.

How were the written Gospels formed?

Mark’s Gospel is probably the earliest. It begins with Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist.

Matthew & Luke begin with infancy narratives. They correspond to the first eleven chapters of Genesis – stories of origins based on re-interpretation of ancient texts.

Matthew’s opening sentence, literally translated, is: “Book of Genesis of Jesus Christ.” It marks a new beginning and a re-interpretation and fulfillment of Old Testament texts. He re-interprets the story of Joseph the dreamer (Genesis 37-50) and the infancy of Moses in Exodus. Matthew incorporates existing collections of Jesus’ teachings – the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5-7) – and of parables (ch. 13) into his narrative. The infant Jesus is a new Moses threatened by a new King.

Luke is re-interpreting other texts, especially the beginnings of the Kingdom in 1 Samuel. Both Matthew and Luke make use of Mark’s Gospel.

John’s Gospel begins not in Jesus’ infancy but in eternity: “In the beginning. . .” – again echoing the opening of the book of Genesis.

Though Mark’s Gospel is sometimes characterized as “low Christology” (the disciples struggle to understand who Jesus is) and John’s as “high Christology” (Jesus’ disciples recognize Him as the Messiah almost from the start), all present Jesus as very human, but also as divine.

Because Jesus was truly human, He died and was entombed. His death and resurrection (not resuscitation) is the essential part of the proclamation of His humanity and divinity. We find this in Peter’s Pentecost sermon: “this man . . . you crucified and killed . . . But God raised him up . . .” (Acts 2:23-24).

The only proof of the resurrection is the transformed lives of Jesus’ followers.


Eric Jensen, SJ, works in the Spiritual Exercises ministry at Loyola House, Guelph, Ontario. He also paints and writes. He is the author of Entering Christ's Prayer (Ave Maria Press, 2007)and Ignatius Loyola and You (Novalis 2018).

  • Susan Garbett-Snidal
    Posted at 01:55h, 09 May Reply

    Hello Father Eric,

    Wonderful to read another of your insightful articles. Wishing you continued Easter blessings. Still miss you.
    I am reading Entering Christ’s Prayer again and learning much. God Bless!

  • Charles Pottie-Pâté
    Posted at 08:57h, 09 May Reply

    Eric, Excellent summary of the process of handing on (Traditio) of the Good News of Jesus Christ, truly human, truly divine.
    Your last sentence – the proof of the ressurrection is the transformed lives of his followers.
    Patrice de la Tour du Pin – French poet and composer of new hymns in French says a similar thing…

    4. Et si l’on nous dit: maintenant montrez-nous un signe éclatant
    hors de vous-mêmes! Le signe est là qu’à son retour
    Nous devons faire ce qu’il aime pour témoigner qu’il est amour.

    from Lumière du monde, ô Jésus.

    thank you, merci…… Ch.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 09:26h, 09 May Reply

    Thank you very much Eric!

  • Frances Cheung
    Posted at 11:30h, 09 May Reply

    Eric, thank you so much!

  • margaret small
    Posted at 16:07h, 09 May Reply

    What a helpful “sweep” of gospel traditions. A brilliant educational nugget.

  • margaret small
    Posted at 10:06h, 10 May Reply

    Another thought I had this morning: language development follows the pattern of listening, speaking, and then writing. The followers of Jesus did this.

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