The Gospels have been described as “biographical sermons” of Jesus. They are biographies in that they aim to inform the audience (whether reading or hearing) about the life and legacy of the protagonist – Jesus of Nazareth. They are sermons in that they aim not merely to inform, but to inspire, persuade, and elicit a response. Where multiple sources of the same presentation exist, inevitably those presentations are both alike and different. Think “remake.” For example, the movie, True Grit, was originally released in 1969 with John Wayne as “Rooster” Cogburn. It was remade in 2010 with Jeff Bridges as “Rooster” Cogburn.”
The story is essentially the same in both movies, but the way the story is interpreted in the two movies, and the way the central character, “Rooster” Cogburn, is portrayed, is different. That is because the directors of the two movies paint a portrait of the central character, “Rooster” Cogburn,” so that the audiences see him through the directors’, or storytellers’, eyes. In much the same way, the four Gospel writers tell the same story of the central character of their biography, Jesus of Nazareth; but because we see Jesus through each Gospel writer’s eyes, we see a unique portrait of him in each of the four Gospels. In scholarly parlance, we call this “portrait” of Jesus the Gospel’s Christology; that is, its understanding, and presentation, of Jesus the Christ.
Your task in this assignment is to experience the Gospel writer’s portrayal of Jesus as the story unfolds before you in the biblical text. Keep in mind that the assignment is not to write a critical introduction of your Gospel, exploring such things as authorship, date, provenance, genre, etc. Your Gospel’s Christology is the same, no matter where you come down on these things. Moreover, a critical introduction of your Gospel is already available in your textbook; there is no need to rehearse that in your Christology paper.
Nor are you to write a theology paper on what “Christology” is. This is a class in New Testament, not theology. Nor is your assignmentto write about who you understand Jesus to be in your Gospel; rather, your assignment is to identify and describe who your Gospel writer understood Jesus to be as evidenced by the way he tells his story of Jesus in his Gospel.
In completing the assignment, it is best to read the Gospel all the way through at one time, as you would a story or short novel, rather than randomly shuffling through the story looking for particular scenes or passages or verses, the very act of which will disrupt the flow of the story and cause you to miss the Gospel writer’s portrayal of Jesus. If you prefer, you can listen to the Gospel read on DVD or MP3. In some ways, listening to the story is preferable to reading it because the Gospels were stories written more for the ear than the eye (remember, many in the ancient world could not read, and even if they could, books were too expensive to own a personal copy). As you read or listen to your Gospel, jot down your impressions of Jesus as his portrait emerges in the story. Try to isolate the single, central Christological image or role your Gospel writer uses to describe Jesus; for example, Messiah (or Christ), Son of Man, Son of God, Miracle Worker, Teacher, the New Moses, the Suffering Servant, the Prophet, the Word (logos of God), and so forth.
Be sure that you are identifying a Christological title, and not just an emphasis of your Gospel. For example, everyone recognizes that Luke portrays Jesus as compassionate, but merely being compassionate, in and of itself, is not Christological. That could be said of lots of people who had no Messianic pretensions or aspirations. Also, while there may be multiple Christological images employed at times in your Gospel, your task is to identify and explore the single Christological image that seems to you to dominate the writer’s view of Jesus. That is, you must explore one Christological image in your Gospel, not multiple images.
There is no single “right answer” for which the instructor is looking. You can choose any Christological title you can defend from the text of your Gospel, but you must defend your choice by appeal to the text of your assigned Gospel.
Once you have isolated the Christological portrait of Jesus you believe your Gospel writer employs, test your hypothesis against the experts by comparing your Christological interpretation with the scholarly commentaries on your Gospel. However, do not consult the commentaries until you have read your Gospel through and come to your own conclusions about its Christology. Finally, write a paper explaining and defending your Christological interpretation of Jesus in your Gospel.
Students will be assigned a Gospel based on the first letter of their last names: A-F (Matthew), G-L (Mark), M-R (Luke), S-Z (John).
- Thesis statement: The paper must have a thesis statement clearly identifying which Christological image of Jesus will be defend, e.g., “The thesis of this paper is that Mark portrays Jesus as the Son of God.”
- Length of assignment: Not less than ten (10) and not more than fifteen (15) pages in length, double-spaced, excluding title page, contents page, and bibliography.
- Format of Assignment: Turabian, current edition. References to the biblical text may be included in the body of the paper with parenthetical citations, but all other sources must have footnotes and a complete bibliography of all sources used in the paper.
- Number of citations: The paper must interact with your assigned Gospel, as well as course resources (textbook(s) and presentations). You must also consult at least five (5) additional scholarly sources as “conversation partners” with whom to test your ideas. Priority should be given to scholarly commentaries on your Gospel. Consult the website, www.bestcommentaries.com for commentary suggestions.
- Acceptable sources: Bible, recent scholarly sources, textbooks, and course presentations. Preference should be given to academic commentaries on the Gospels. Internet sources require the instructor’s prior approval.
Note: Your assignment will be checked for originality via the Turnitin plagiarism tool.