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the Gospels as Narratives

Reading in light of the final form of the tradition

God has given us narratives.

1. Have you ever read a Gospel all the way through in one sitting?

2. Can you identify for me the major thematic differences between

Matthew and Luke?

What Gospel narratives are NOT

What Gospel narratives ARE

Doesn’t storytelling make it sound like fiction?

Reading the Gospels as narratives helps us unlock each Gospel’s interpretation of

Jesus by unlocking the dynamics of the whole story.

The implied reader of the Gospels is someone who reads the work from beginning to

So what does it mean to read the Gospels as narratives?

In the first place, it means to read the Gospel in one or two sittings
• Mark will take you forty five minutes, Matthew, Luke and John perhaps an
hour and a half.

• Many things work against this

o Chapters, verses, and heading

o A nagging feeling that you shouldn’t go on.

• The aim in all of this is to get an overall feel for how the gospel starts and
ends, to see how episodes are combined together to amplify and contrast.

Applying the tools of narrative criticism


Plot refers to the progress of a narrative, the sequence of events which move us from
beginning to end. In simple terms, the way the story is told, the very shape of the
story, is an essential part of its meaning. If letters argue, then stories plot.

• Functions at both macro and micro levels


Characterization is critical for the narrative, because characters often provide a key to
the narrators evaluative point of view.

• Who are the enemies in Matthew’s Gospel? Why? What do they do or say that
makes them so wrong?

• Which characters are prominent and favoured in Luke’s narrative?

Dynamic Characters and Static Characters

Dynamic Character – Zacchaeus – Luke 19:1-10

Static Character – Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-22)


Setting refers to all facets of the narrative world in which characters act and events

• Spatial settings (geography, political-cultural locales)

• Temporal Settings (what time of day, festivals, etc)

• Socio-Cultural Settings (politics, history, social groupings)

The importance of setting in an episode in Matthew’s Gospel:

• Matthew consciously develops the “Jesus as Israel” theme by picking up on

the desert setting, the forty days and forty nights, and the use of Deuteronomy


Focussing on what’s in the text, not what is absent from the text

Other literary/narrative devices


1. Matthew’s constant use of “This was to fulfil…”

2. Mark likes doing things in threes

a. three boat scenes (Mk 4:35-41; 6:45-52; 8:14-21)

b. three predictions of Jesus’ death (8:31-38; 9:31-37; 10:32-45)
c. three denials by Peter (14:68, 70, 71)
Chiastic narrative structures


• see Matt 1:23 and Matt 28:20

Intercalation (sandwiching)

• one episode is inserted (intercalated) into the middle of another


where the apparent meaning is contrary to the real meaning

• John 1:46 “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

• John 11:49-50 “You know nothing at all! You do not understand it is better for
you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation

Letting the Gospels get to us, and how to let them get to us more.