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Similarities among John's Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels

Gospels for the World, Unite!

Is there any historical worth to the Gospel of John? Does it stray so far from the actual life of Jesus that we can hope only for a pious but mostly fictional story of him?

In the last four articles on the four Gospels, we discovered that they all share the same storyline, particularly in the context of mission. We should therefore be able to find this storyline in a comparison between John on the one hand and the Synoptics on the other.

The list is built on the Gospel of John. If John and one other Synoptic share one similarity, then it is listed. Needless to say, if John and two other Synoptics share a common feature, then it is listed, too. I have not counted how many similarities there are among John and one or two other Synoptics. But a reader is invited to compile these totals.

What is surprising about this list is how many times all four Gospels share similarities (see Q & A Two, below, for the totals).

If readers see an omission, then email me with the Gospel references and the name or place or teaching, and so on. My email is available through my author page by clicking on "Bio" at the top of the page.

Hovering over the references below will bring up the NET Bible version on each of these. If readers spot a reference error, then email me, please.

1. So what are the similarities among John and the Synoptics?

The items are derived from a wide range of similarities, from large themes, all the way to specific verbal agreements. The categories follow the life of Christ, since that is the strategy of the four Gospels. The order of each item under the categories follows John’s references, as often as possible. Many items in this list have more than one Biblical reference, but they are sometimes omitted for brevity.

His Political Context

  • Jesus ministers while Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea from AD 26-36 (Matt. 27:2; Mark 15:1; Lk. 3:1; Jn. 18:29).
  • Caiaphas is the high priest (Matt. 26:3, 26:57; Lk. 3:2; Jn. 11:49; 18:13-14, 24, 28).
  • Annas was high priest (Lk. 3:2; Jn. 18:13, 24).

His Family

  • Joseph is the father of Jesus (Matt. 1:18-24; Lk. 1:27; 2:4, 16, 22, 39; 4:22; Jn. 1:45; 6:42).
  • Jesus’ mother is mentioned (Matt. 12:46-47; Mark 3:31-32; Lk. 8:19-20; Jn. 2:1-3; 19:26-27).
  • He temporarily distances himself from his mother early in his ministry (Matt. 12:46-50; Mark 3:20-21, 34-35; Lk. 8:19-21; Jn. 2:4).
  • He has brothers (or half brothers), and they do not believe until later (Matt. 12:46-47; Mark 3:31-32; Lk. 8:19-20; Jn. 7:3-5).
  • He comes (is supposed to come) from David’s lineage (Matt. 1:1; Mark 12:35-36; Lk. 1:27; 2:4; Jn. 7:42).

Geography and Locations

  • Jesus first ministers in Galilee (Matt. 4:12-18; Mark 1:14-16, 28, 39; Lk. 4:14; Jn. 1:43; 2:1-11).
  • He ministers in Bethsaida or to its citizens (Matt. 11:21; Mark 6:45; 8:22; Lk. 9:10; 10:13; Jn. 1:44; 12:21).
  • He is called “Jesus of Nazareth” (Matt. 26:71; Mark 10:47; Lk. 24:19; Jn. 1:45).
  • Israel is the name of his country -- not Palestine, which the Greeks and Romans called it, but it is never called "Palestine" anywhere in the New Testament (Matt. 2:6, 20, 21; 8:10; 9:33; 10:6, 23; 15:24, 31; 19:28; 27:9, 42; Mark 12:29; 15:32; Lk. 1:16, 54, 68, 80; 2:25, 32, 34; 4:25, 27; 7:9; 22:30; 24:21; Jn. 1:31, 47, 49; 12:31).
  • He ministers in the town of Capernaum, by the Lake of Galilee (Matt. 4:13; 8:5; 17:24; Mark 1:21; 2:1; 9:33; Lk. 4:23, 31; 7:1; Jn. 2:12; 4:46; 6:17, 24, 59).
  • He ministers to entire towns and regions that come out to see him (Matt. 14:34-36; Mark 1:33; 6:53-56; Jn. 3:22; 4:1-3; 4:39; 10:40-42).
  • He ministers in Judea or to Judeans (Matt. 4:25; 12:15; 14:13; 19:1; Mark 3:7; 10:1; 13:34; Lk. 4:44; 5:17; 6:17; 7:17; 23:5; Jn. 3:22; 4:47, 54; 7:10).
  • He often ministers in Galilee and around its Lake (Matt. 4:18, 23, 25; 11:1; 15:29; 17:22; 28:7; Mark 1:28, 39; 3:7; 7:31; 9:30; 14:28; 16:7; Lk. 4:31; 8:26; 17:11; 24:6; Jn. 4:3, 43-47, 54; 6:1; 7:1, 9; 12:21; 21:2).
  • He is willing to minister to Samaritans, even though the relationship between them and Jews is tense (Lk. 17:11-19; Jn. 4:4-26, 39-42). Restrictions are context-specific (Matt. 10:5-6; 15:24).
  • He is rejected in his home country (Matt. 15:54-58; Mark 6:1-6; Lk. 4:16-30; Jn. 4:44).
  • He teaches in the synagogue in Capernaum (Mark 1:21; Lk. 4:31, Jn. 6:59).
  • He teaches in synagogues, stated retrospectively in John (Matt. 4:23; 12:9; 13:54; Mark 1:39; 3:1; 6:2; Lk. 4:15-16; 4:44; 13:10; Jn. 18:20).
  • Jerusalem is the capital, the holy city (about 18 times in Mt.; 11 times in Mk.; 34 times in Lk; 14 times in John).
  • He teaches in the temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 21:23; Mark 12:35; Lk. 21:37; Jn. 7:28).
  • Christ comes from Bethlehem (Matt. 2:1-8; Lk. 2:4, 15; Jn. 7:42).
  • While in the temple, he teaches near the place where the offering were put (Mark 12:41; Lk. 21:1; Jn. 8:20).
  • The Jordan River and eastward is important in his life (Matt. 4:15, 25; 19:1; Mark 3:8; 10:1; Lk. 4:1; Jn. 10:40).
  • Bethany, a village just outside Jerusalem, plays a key role at the end of his life (Matt. 21:17; 26:5; Mark 11:1, 11-12; Lk. 19:29; 24:50; Jn. 11:1, 18; 12:1). This is not Bethany beyond the Jordan (John 1:28; 10:40).

John the Baptist and Jesus

  • John is the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” to prepare the way (Matt. 3:3; Mark 3:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23).
  • Religious leaders (Pharisees, priests and Levites) question John (Matt. 3:7; Jn. 1:19).
  • John baptizes with water (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:26).
  • You don’t know who (Jesus) stands among you (Lk. 3:15; Jn. 1:26).
  • John is not worthy to loosen a strap of Jesus’ sandals or to carry them (Matt. 3:11; Mark 3:11; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:27).
  • Crowds go out to be baptized by John, who baptizes in the Jordan River (Matt. 3:5-6; Mark 1:5; Lk. 3:3; Jn. 1:28).
  • Jesus will baptize with the Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33).
  • The Spirit, in the form of a dove, is present on Jesus (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Lk. 3:22; Jn. 1:32-33).
  • John gathers disciples around him (Matt. 14:12; Mark 6:29; Lk. 7:18; Jn. 1:35).
  • John is put in prison (Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14; Lk. 3:20; Jn. 3:24).
  • The image of a bridegroom appears in the context of John (Matt. 9:15; Mark 2:19; Lk. 5:34; Jn. 3:29).
  • Jesus must become greater, John lesser (Matt. 11:11; Lk. 7:28; Jn. 3:30).

His Mission

  • The theme and reality of glory in Jesus' ministry is stated (Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Lk. 2:32; 9:31-32; Jn. 1:14; 2:11; 11:4, 40; 12:28, 41; 17:24).
  • There is the right time or hour in his life (Matt. 9:15; 26:18; Mark 1:15; 14:35, 41; Lk. 19:44; 22:14; Jn. 2:4; 7:6; 8:20; 12:23).
  • He enjoys the company of wine drinkers (Lk. 5:29-30; 7:34; 15:1-2; Jn. 2:1-11).
  • He has authority and power, which opponents sometimes question (Matt. 7:29; 8:9; 21:23-27; 28:18; Mark 1:22, 27; 11:28-33; Lk. 4:32; 5:24; 20:1-8; Jn 2:18; 5:27; 10:18; 13:3; 17:2).
  • He will “go up” or “be taken up” into heaven (Lk. 9:51; Jn. 3:14; 8:28; 12:32).
  • He came to save people (Matt. 1:21; 10:22; 16:25; 19:25-26; Mark 8:35-36; 10:26-27; 13:13; Lk. 2:11, 30; 9:24; 18:26-27; 19:9; Jn. 3:17; 4:42; 5:34; 10:9; 12:47).
  • He has come or been sent by God (Matt. 9:13; 10:34; Mark 1:38; 2:17; Lk. 5:32; 7:16-20; 12:49; Jn. 3:19; 5:43; 6:38).
  • Salvation is from the Jews (Matt. 1:1-17, 21; Lk. 2:30; Jn. 3:23-38; 4:22).
  • Jesus came not to do his own will, but the will of the one who sent him (Matt. 26:39-42; Mark 14:36; Lk. 22:42; Jn. 4:34; 6:38).
  • He is greater than Old Testament prophets (Abraham, Solomon, and Jonah) and the temple (Matt. 12:6, 39-42; Lk. 11:29-32; Jn. 8:52-58).
  • He lays down his life (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; Jn. 10:11, 15, 17-18).
  • He predicts his own death (Matt. 12:39-41; 16:21-28; 20:17-19; Mark 8:31; 9:44; 10:32-34; Lk. 9:22-27; 11:29:30; 18:31-33; Jn. 12:20-26).
  • He successfully resists Satan during Jesus' lifetime (Matt. 4:11; Lk. 4:13; Jn. 12:31; 14:30).

His Unique Relationship with His Father

  • Jesus teaches and acts as if he has a unique relationship with his Father (Matt. 6:9; 10:32-33; 11:26-27; Mark 14:36; Lk. 10:21-22; 11:2; Jn. 1:14; 3:35; 10:15).
  • To honor the Father is to honor the Son, and to honor the Son is to honor the Father (Matt. 10:40; 18:5; Mark 9:37; Jn. 5:23).
  • He accepts worship or prostration (Matt. 14:33; 28:9; 28:17; Lk. 24:52; Jn. 9:38; 20:28).
  • A voice from heaven supports Jesus (Matt. 3:17; 15:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Lk. 3:22; 9:35; Jn. 12:28-30).
  • Jesus says receiving him means receiving the one who sent him (Matt. 10:40; Mark 9:36-37; Lk. 9:48; 10:16; Jn. 13:20).

His Titles

  • Jesus refers to himself as and accepts the title of the Son of God (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Lk. 1:32; 3:22; Jn. 1:34; 3:16).
  • He refers to himself as or accepts the titles Rabbi / Teacher (Matt. 23:7-8; 26:25, 49; Mark 9:5; 10:51; 11:51; Lk. 9:38; Jn. 1:38, 49; 6:25).
  • He refers to himself as or accepts the title of the Christ (Matt. 1:16; Mark 8:29; Lk. 9:20; Jn. 1:41).
  • He accepts the title of king (Matt. 27:11; Mark 11:10; 15:2; Lk. 22:3; Jn. 1:49; 12:13; 18:33, 37).
  • He refers to himself as or accepts the title of the Son of Man (Matt. 8:20; Mark 2:10; Lk. 5:24; Jn. 1:51); in a clearly apocalyptic sense (Mark 8:38; Lk. 12:8-9; Jn. 5:27). In the vast majority of the 80-plus references to the Son of Man in verses in the four Gospels, Jesus alone uses this title and only about himself
  • He refers to himself as or accepts the title of Prophet (Matt. 13:57; Mark 6:4; Lk. 4:24; Jn. 4:44).
  • He uses the clause “I am” (egō eimi) in a special, divine way, also according to some contexts in the Synoptics (see Brown, vol. 1, Appendix IV, pp. 532-38) (Matt. 14:27; Mark 6:50; [cf. 13:6]; 14:62; Lk. [cf. 21:8]; 22:70; 24:36; Jn. 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:9; 18:5).
  • He refers to himself as or accepts the title of Lord (Matt. 7:21; Mark 2:28; Lk. 6:5; Jn. 6:23).

His Disciples

  • Jesus calls disciples early in his ministry (Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Lk. 5:2-11; Jn. 1:35-42).
  • Simon’s brother is Andrew (Matt. 4:18; 10:2; Mark 1:16, 29; 3:18; 13:3; Lk. 6:14; Jn. 1:40, 44; 6:8; 12:22).
  • Simon’s second name is Peter (Matt. 16:18; Mark 3:16; Lk. 6:14; Jn. 1:42).
  • Philip is named (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Lk. 6:14; Jn. 1:43-48; 6:5, 7; 12:21-22; 14:8-9).
  • Jesus chooses twelve main disciples (Matt. 10:1; Mark 3:13; Lk. 6:13; Jn. 6:67-71; 15:16).
  • Peter is mentioned the most often of all the disciples (over 90 times in all four Gospels).
  • Thomas is named (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:8; Lk. 6:15; Jn. 11:16; 14:5; 20:24-28; 21:2).
  • Jesus knows the Bethany sisters Martha and Mary (Lk. 10:38-42; Jn. 11:1-12:8).
  • Martha is more active, Mary less so (Lk. 10:40-42; Jn. 11:20).
  • Peter is the one who asks for clarification (Matt. 15:15; Lk. 12:1; Jn. 13:36-38).
  • Jesus is anointed in Bethany (by Mary) (Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Jn. 12:1-8).
  • Someone (Judas) complains that the perfume or ointment could have been sold and given to the poor (Matt. 26:9; Mark 14:5; Jn. 12:5).
  • Women follow Jesus (Matt. 27:55; Mark 15:41; Lk. 8:2-3; 23:49; Jn. 19:25-27).
  • Mary Magdalene is named as a close follower (Matt. 27:56-28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1, 9; Lk. 8:2; 24:10; Jn. 19:25; 20:1, 18).
  • James and John are brothers, or the sons of Zebedee are mentioned (Matt. 4:21; Mark 1:19; Lk. 5:10; Jn. 21:2).
  • Peter and the sons of Zebedee are called or described as fishermen (Matt. 4:21; Mark 4:19; Lk. 5:6-10; Jn. 21:3-8).

Their Discipleship

  • Jesus says to follow him (Matt. 4:19; 10:38; Mark 8:34; Lk. 9:23; Jn. 1:43; 12:26; 21:19, 22).
  • The disciples do not understand many things before the ascension (Matt. 13:36; 16:9, 11, 22-23; Mark 4:13, 33; 6:52; 8:7; Lk. 9:45; 18:34; Jn. 2:22; 12:16; 13:7, 28; 16:18; 20:9).
  • The harvest is ripe and plentiful (Matt. 9:38; Lk. 10:2; Jn. 4:35).
  • Workers for the Lord may get different wages that seem unfair (Matt. 20:1-16; Jn. 4:36-38).
  • The disciples spiritually (or non-literally) partake of his blood and body or flesh (Matt. 26:27-29; Mark 14:22-25; Lk. 22:17-20; Jn. 6:53-59).
  • He is aware of his disciples’ discussion or grumbling (Mt.16:8; 26:10; Mark 8:17; Jn. 6:61).
  • Disciples must judge aright (Matt. 7:1-7; Lk. 6:41-42; Jn. 7:24).
  • His followers are like sheep among wolves (Matt. 10:16; Lk. 10:3; Jn. 10:12).
  • Greeks or Greek speakers need ministry (Mark 7:26; Jn. 12:20).
  • Jesus teaches on loving one’s life and losing it, and by losing it one will find it (Matt. 10:39; 16:25; Mark 8:35; Lk. 9:24; 17:33; Jn. 12:25).
  • Synagogues will reject his disciples (Matt. 10:17-18; Mark 13:9; Lk. 12:11; 21:12; Jn. 12:42; 16:1-4).
  • He says to serve, and in John he washes the disciples’ feet (Matt. 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45; Lk. 22:24-30; Jn. 13:17).
  • The disciples through the Spirit (will) speak the right words and do the ministry (Matt. 10:20; Mark 13:11; Lk. 12:12; Jn. 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:13-15).
  • Jesus has been hated, and his disciples will be hated (Matt. 10:22; 24:9-10; Mark 13:13; Lk. 6:22, 27; 21:17; Jn. 15:18-19).
  • If people persecuted him, they will persecute his disciples (Matt. 5:10, 44; Lk. 21:12; Jn. 15:20).
  • The disciples are witnesses (Matt. 10:18; Mark 13:9; Lk. 24:48; Jn. 15:27).
  • The disciples’ faith may be shaken (Matt. 24:10; Jn. 16:1).
  • Some disciples will be put to death (Matt. 24:9; Lk. 21:16; Jn. 16:2).
  • The disciples are commissioned after his resurrection (Matt. 28:16-20; Lk. 24:47; Jn. 20:21; cf. 17:18).
  • The disciples (will) receive the Spirit in their mission (Lk. 24:49; Jn. 20:22).

His Hebrew Bible

  • Jesus quotes or honors the law of Moses (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; 5:17-19; 19:8, 16-18; 22:29-32, 34-40; Mark 10:5-9; 12:26, 29-31; Lk. 4:4, 8, 12, 18-19; 16:17; 18:20; 20:37; Jn. 3:14; 5:45-47; 6:32; 7:19, 22-23; 19:36).
  • He fulfills Isaiah’s prophecies (Matt. 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:14-15; 15:7-9; Mark 4:11-12; 7:6-7; 11:17; 13:25; Lk. 4:17; 8:10; 22:37; Jn. 6:45; 12:38-41).
  • He honors, quotes, or is prophesied in the Prophets (Matt. 10:35-36; 11:10; 13:13; 21:4-5; 24:15, 29; 26:31; Mark 1:2-3; 11:9-10; 11:17; 13:14, 24; 14:27; Lk. 7:27; 23:30; 24:25-27; Jn. 10:12; 12:15; 15:25; 19:37).
  • He honors, quotes, or is prophesied in the Psalms (Matt. 13:35; 21:9; 21:16; 21:42; 23:43-44; 27:46; Mark 12:10-11, 36; 15:37; Lk. 20:42; Jn. 10:34; 12:13; 19:24; 20:28).
  • He fulfills prophecy in many ways (Matt. 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 3:15; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:24; 26:54, Mark 13:4; 14:49; Lk. 1:1; 4:21; 8:31; 9:31; 21:22, 24; 22:16, 37; 24:44; Jn. 12:38; 13:18; 15:25; 17:12; 18:9; 18:32; 19:24, 28, 36).

His Miracles

  • Jesus heals crowds of the sick (Matt. 4:23-25; Mark 3:7-12; Lk. 6:17-19; Jn. 3:23; 6:2).
  • The miracles of Jesus point to a higher truth about himself and God than the miracles per se (Matt. 9:1-8; Mark 2:3-12; Lk. 5:18-26; Jn. 5:19-30).
  • The lame, the blind, the crippled, and the paralyzed are listed as a collective (Matt. 11:5; 15:30-31; 21:14; Lk. 7:22; 14:13; 14:21; Jn. 5:3).
  • On different occasions, Jesus says, “Pick up your mat and walk and go home” (Matt. 9:6; Mark 2:11; Lk. 5:24; Jn. 5:8).
  • He feeds thousands (Matt. 14:13-21; 15:29-31; Mark 6:32-44; 8:1-10; Lk. 5:16; 9:10-17; Jn. 6:1-17; 11:54).
  • On occasion, he healed in unusual ways (Mark 7:33; 8:23; Jn. 9:6).
  • He heals blind persons (Matt. 9:27-28; 11:5; 12:22; 20:29-34; Mark 8:22-23; 10:46-52; Lk. 7:21-22; 14:13-21; 18:35-43; Jn. 5:3; 9:1-34).
  • He raises the dead (Matt. 9:18-19, 23-26; Mark 5:21-24, 35-43; Lk. 7:11-15; 8:40-42, 49-56; Jn. 11:1-44).
  • Peter’s miraculous catches of fish (Lk. 5:1-11; Jn. 21:1-15). I believe these are two different events, but some don’t, so the catches are included in this list.

His Teaching

  • Jesus is the light of the world (Matt. 4:16; Lk. 2:32; Jn. 1:4-7; 3:19; 8:12; 9:5).
  • Angels minister (Matt. 1:20, 24; 28:2-5; Mark 1:13; 8:38; Lk. 2:15; 9:26; 12:8-9; Jn. 1:51; 20:12).
  • Jesus says to believe in him and his message and works (Matt. 9:28; 17:20; 21:22; Mark 1:15; 5:36; 11:24; Lk. 8:50; 17:5-6; Jn. 2:11; 3:18; 5:38; 6:29; 7:31; 10:38; 14:11).
  • Beware of all men speaking well of you or of accepting their praise (Lk. 6:26; Jn. 2:24-25; 5:41).
  • Jesus frequently uses the Hebrew word “amen” (“verily” or “truly”) in his teaching (Matt. 5:18; Mark 3:28; Lk. 4:24; Jn. 3:3).
  • The kingdom of God is a theme (Matt. 4:17, 23; Mark 1:15; Lk. 4:43; 8:1; Jn. 3:3-5; 18:36).
  • Being born again or becoming like a child to get into the kingdom of God is a theme; “the kingdom of God” in the Synoptics and “eternal life" in John are used interchangeably (Matt. 18:3; Mark 9:45, 47; 10:15, 17, 23, 24, 30; Lk. 10:17; Jn. 3:3, 5).
  • The spirit / flesh dichotomy is used (Matt. 26:41; Mark 14:38; Jn. 3:6).
  • People are amazed and astonished at Jesus’ words and ministry (Matt. 7:28; 8:27; 15:31; 21:20; 22:22; 27:14; Mark 1:27; 5:20; 15:5, 44; Lk. 4:22, 36; 8:25; 9:43; 11:14, 38; 20:26; 24:41; Jn. 3:7; 4:27; 5:20, 28; 7:15, 21).
  • Eternal life is a theme (Matt. 19:16, 29; 25:46; Mark 10:17, 30; Lk. 10:25; 16:9; 18:18, 30; Jn. 3:15-16, 36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:27, 40; 6:54; 10:28).
  • Humans have the capacity for evil (Matt. 12:35; Mark 7:21; Lk. 6:45; Jn. 3:19-20; 5:29).
  • Jesus redefines the will of the Father (Matt. 12:50; Mark 3:35; Lk. 8:21; Jn. 4:34).
  • Jesus uses the image of bread positively (Matt. 13:33; Lk. 13:20-21; Jn. 6:32-33, 35, 41, 48, 50-51, 58).
  • Satan or the devil exists and opposes God’s people and plan (Matt. 4:10; Mark 1:13; Lk. 10:18; Jn. 6:70; 8:44; 12:31; 13:27; 14:30; 16:11; 17:15).
  • Jesus’ teaching may harden hearts (Matt. 13:13-15; Mark 4:11-12; Lk. 8:10; Jn. 9:39; 12:39-40).
  • He teaches in parables or figures of speech (Matt. 13:10-15; Mark 4:2, 11-12; Lk. 8:10; Jn. 10:6; 16:25-29).
  • The image of a gate and gatekeeper is used (Matt. 7:13-14; Mark 13:24; Jn. 10:1-9).
  • God or Jesus is like a shepherd, and the people are like sheep (Matt. 9:36; 25:32; 26:31; 10:6; 14:27; Mark 6:34; 14:27; Lk. 15:4-6; 17:7; Jn. 10:11-16).
  • Jesus says, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me” (Lk. 22:67; Jn. 10:25).
  • He uses the verb “sleep” for “die” (Matt. 9:24; Mark 5:39-40; Lk. 8:52; Jn. 11:12-15).
  • Blessed are those who hear and keep and do the Word (Matt. 7:24-26; Lk. 6:47-49; 11:28; 12:43; Jn. 12:47; 13:17).
  • There will be a day of judgment (Matt. 12:36; Lk. 17:24-31; Jn. 12:48).
  • A servant or disciple is not greater than his master or teacher (Matt. 10:24-25; Lk. 6:40; Jn. 13:16; 15:20).
  • He pronounces that a variety of persons and actions are blessed (Matt. 5:3-11; 11:6; 16:17; 25:34; Lk. 6:20-22; 7:23; 11:28; 14:14, 16; 24:50; Jn. 13:17; 20:29).
  • He teaches on asking and receiving in prayer (Matt. 7:8; 18:19-20; Mark 11:10; Lk.11:24; Jn. 14:13-14; 16:24).
  • He says his name has power (Matt. 7:22; 12:21; 18:20; Mark 9:38-39; Lk. 9:49; 10:17; Jn. 14:13-14, 26; 15:16; 16:23-24; 17:11-12).
  • Don’t be afraid (Lk. 12:32; Jn. 14:27).
  • Unproductive works will be thrown into the fire (Matt. 3:10-12; 7:19; 13:40; 18:809; Lk. 3:9, Jn. 15:6).
  • Love and commandments are themes (Matt. 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Lk. 10:27-28; Jn. 15:9-11).
  • Men disbelieve in Jesus despite the miracles he did, so these disbelievers are judged (Matt. 11:20-23; Lk. 10:13; Jn. 15:24).
  • The Father’s name is holy; may he give us bread and deliver us from the evil one or evil (Matt. 6:9-13; Jn. 6:33; 17:11, 15).
  • The disciples have authority to release sins (Matt. 18:18; Jn. 20:23).

His Popularity and Opposition

  • Jesus clears out part of the temple courts (Matt. 21:18-22; Mark 11:15-19; Lk. 19:45-47; Jn. 2:13-16).
  • He refuses to perform miraculous signs to satisfy his opponents (Matt. 12:38; Mark 8:11; Lk. 11:16; Jn. 2:18; 4:48; 6:30).
  • He leaves a region due to opposition (Matt. 12:15; Mark 3:7; Lk. 6:11-12; Jn. 4:1-3).
  • Defying religious oral traditions, he does “unnecessary” healings on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:9-13; Mark 3:1-6; Lk. 6:6-11; 13:10-17; Jn. 5:1-18; 7:21-24; 9:1-16).
  • If the leaders believed Moses, they would believe in Jesus, but they don’t believe Moses (Lk. 16:31; Jn. 5:46-47).
  • Jesus is popular with the masses (Matt. 8:21; Mark 10:1; Lk. 5:15; Jn. 6:2).
  • But he sometimes withdraws from them for solitude (Matt. 8:18; 12:15; 14:13-14; Mark 3:7-9; 6:32-34; Lk. 6:12, 17-19; 9:10; Jn. 6:3, 15).
  • He is accused of deceiving people (Matt. 27:63; Jn. 7:12, 47).
  • The crowds guess at who he is (Matt. 16:13-14; Mark 8:27-28; Lk. 9:18-19; Jn. 7:40-43).
  • Do Jews really have Abraham as their father (Matt. 3:9; Lk. 3:8; Jn. 8:33-39; 13:28-29)?
  • Those who prevent him from fulfilling his mission to die at the right time are called children of the devil or are said to be motivated by Satan (Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:33; Jn. 8:37, 40).
  • Opponents accuse him of being demon possessed (Matt. 9:34; Mark 3:22; Lk. 11:15; Jn. 8:48-52; 10:20).
  • There are aborted attempts to kill him (Lk. 4:28-30; 13:31; Jn. 8:59; 10:31-32; 11:8).
  • He calls the religious establishment spiritually blind (Matt. 15:12-14; 23:16-26; Jn. 9:39-41).
  • The disciples fear to go up to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32; Jn. 11:7-8).
  • The Sanhedrin (the high court) and other religious leaders seek a way to get rid of Jesus and to trump up evidence (Matt. 26:59; 27:12; Mark 3:2; 14:55; Lk. 6:7; 15:1; 22:66; 23:2; Jn. 8:6; 10:36; 11:47).
  • He challenges the Jerusalem religious establishment, particularly Pharisees and chief priests (Matt. 21:45; Mark 11:27-33; Lk. 20:9-19; Jn. 11:47, 57).

His Triumphal Entry

  • Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly to conclude his ministry and life (Matt. 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-10; Lk. 19:29-38; Jn. 12:12-15).
  • The people use branches to usher him in (Matt. 21:8; Mark 11:8; Jn.12:13)
  • During the entry, the crowds shout that he is blessed who comes in the name of the Lord (Matt. 21:9; Mark 11:9; Lk. 13:35; 19:38; Jn. 12:13).
  • King or kingdom is used (Mark 11:10; Lk. 19:38; Jn. 12:13).
  • He rides a beast of burden (Matt. 21:5; Mark 11:7; Lk. 19:33-35; Jn. 12:14).
  • Zechariah 9:9 is quoted (Matt. 21:5; Jn. 12:15).

His Last Supper

  • Jesus celebrates Passover and eats the Last Supper with his disciples (Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Lk. 22:7-13; Jn. 13:1-17:26).
  • The image of the vine and its fruit is used metaphorically (Matt. 26:29; Mark 14:25; Lk. 22:18; Jn. 15:1-8).

The Betrayal

  • Judas is named as the betrayer, sometimes early in a Gospel for the readers’ / listeners’ sake (Matt. 26:14-16, 25, 49: Mark 3:19; 14:10-11, 43-45; Lk. 6:16; 22:3-6, 47-48; Jn. 12:4; 13:2, 26-30; 18:2-5).
  • Satan prompts and / or enters Judas (Lk. 22:3; Jn. 6:70-71; 13:2, 27).
  • At the Last Supper, Jesus states that someone will betray him (Matt. 26:21; Mark 14:18; Lk. 22:21-22; Jn. 13:21).
  • The disciples ask who the betrayer is (Matt. 26:22; Mark 14:19; Lk. 22:23; Jn. 13:22-25).
  • Whoever dips into a bowl will betray Jesus (Luke says the hand of the betrayer is at the table) (Matt. 26:23-25; Mark 18-21; Jn. 13:26-27).
  • Judas Iscariot leads an armed mob to arrest Jesus (Matt. 26:14, 47-49; Mark 14:43-45; Lk. 22:47-49; Jn. 18:2-5).

His Arrest

  • Jesus agonizes in his spirit over his impending death (Matt. 20:22; 26:38; Mark 10:38; 14:36; Lk. 22:42-44; Jn. 12:27-28).
  • On the night he is arrested, he faces and resists temptation to avoid the cross (Matt. 26:37-46; Mark 14:35-36; Lk. 22:46; Jn. 12:27).
  • He and his disciples retire to the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley (Matt. 24:3; 26:30; Mark 11:1; 13:3; 14:26; Lk. 19:29, 37; 21:37-39; Jn. 18:1; cf. 8:1).
  • A disciple (Peter) cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant (Malchus) (Matt. 26:51; Mark 14:47; Lk. 22:50; Jn. 18:10).

The Denial

  • Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times (Matt. 26:34, 75; Mark 14:30, 72; Lk. 22:34, 61; Jn. 13:38).
  • Peter goes to the courtyard of the high priest (Matt. 26:58; Mark 14:54, 66; Lk. 22:55; Jn. 18:15).
  • A servant girl spots Peter and questions him, and he denies Jesus (Matt. 26:69-70; Mark 14:66-68; Lk. 22:56-57; Jn. 18:16-17).
  • A second time, a similar question and denial (Matt. 26:71-72; Mark 14:69-70; Lk. 22:58; Jn. 18:25).
  • Yet another challenge and Peter denies Jesus a third time (Matt. 26:73-74; Mark 14:70-71; Lk. 22:59-60; Jn. 18:26-27).
  • A crowing rooster reminds Peter of Jesus’ prediction (Matt. 26:74; Mark 14:72; Lk. 22:60; Jn. 18:26).
  • He also predicts that Peter will be restored, and Jesus makes sure that Peter is restored (Lk. 22:32b; Jn. 21:15-19).

His Trial

  • The chief priests of Jerusalem try Jesus and press for his execution (Matt. 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Lk. 22:66-71; Jn. 18:12-14, 19-24; 19:6).
  • He is accused of saying that he will destroy the “temple” and rebuild it in three days (Matt. 26:61; 27:40; Mark 14:57-58; 15:29; cf. Jn. 2:19).
  • Pontius Pilate tries Jesus, hesitates to press the matter, but hands Jesus over to be executed (Matt. 27:14-24; Mark 14:6-10; Lk. 23:4-6, 14-16, 20-22, 24; Jn. 18:18-40; 19:1-16).
  • Pilate tries Jesus in Pilate’s palace or Praetorium (Matt. 27:27; Mark 15:16; Jn. 18:28, 33; 19:9).
  • Pilate asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” and Jesus answers in the affirmative with a qualification in John (Matt. 27:11; Mark 15:2; Lk. 22:3; Jn. 18:33, 37).
  • Pilate declares Jesus’ innocence three times (Lk. 23:4, 14-15, 22; Jn. 18:38; 19:4, 6).
  • Releasing a prisoner is a custom (Matt. 27:15; Mark 15:6; Jn. 18:39).
  • Crowds and authorities clamor for the release of Barabbas (Matt. 27:20; Mark 15:11; Lk. 23:13, 18; Jn. 18:38, 40).
  • Barabbas is a rebel or insurrectionist (Mark 15:6; Lk. 23:19; Jn. 18:39-40).
  • Barabbas is released instead of Jesus (Matt. 27:15-21; Mark 15:7, 15; Lk. 22:18-25; Jn. 18:40).
  • A crowd clamors for his crucifixion: verdict by volume (Matt. 27:20-25; Mark 15:12-15; Lk. 23:18-24; Jn. 19:6, 12, 15).
  • The Sonship of Jesus is one of the accusations leveled at him (Matt. 26:63-64; Mark 14:61-62; Lk. 22:70; Jn. 19:7).

The Mockery

  • Pilate’s Roman soldiers are present (Matt. 27:27; Mark 15:16; Jn. 19:2).
  • They weave or twist and put a crown of thorns on Jesus (Matt. 27:29; Mark 15:17; Jn. 19:2).
  • They throw a robe on him (Matt. 27:28; Mark 15:17; Jn. 19:2).
  • They mock him (Matt. 27:29; Mark 15:19-20; Jn. 19:3).
  • The say, “Hail king of the Jews!” (Matt. 27:29; Mark 15:18; Jn. 19:3).
  • They hit him (Matt. 27:30; Mark 15:19; Jn. 19:3).
  • They lead him away to crucify him (Matt. 27:31; Mark 15:20; Jn. 19:16).
  • Soldiers cast lots for his clothing (Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24; Lk. 23:34; Jn. 19:23-24).

His Crucifixion

  • Jesus’ crucifixion has a higher purpose than an unfortunate martyrdom (Matt. 20:19, 28; Mark 10:45; Lk. 22:28-30; Jn. 10:10-18).
  • He is crucified on a cross at the Place of the Skull (Matt. 27:33; Mark 15:22; Lk. 23:33; Jn. 19:17).
  • Two others (criminals) are crucified alongside him (Matt. 27:38; Mark 15:27; Lk. 23:33, 40-43; Jn. 19:18).
  • A notice on the cross reads, “King of the Jews” (Matt. 27:37; Mark 15:26; Lk. 23:38; Jn. 19:19).
  • Mary Magdalene and other women watch him on the cross (Matt. 25:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; Lk. 23:49; Jn. 19:25-27).
  • He is offered gall (Matt. 27:34, 48; Mark 15:36; Lk. 23:36; Jn. 19:28-30).

His Burial

  • Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for Jesus’ body and wraps it in linen cloth (Matt. 27:57; Mark 15:43-46; Lk. 23:50-53; Jn. 19:38-42).
  • The tomb is new and / or has been cut out of rock (Matt. 27:60; Mark 15:46; Lk. 23:53; Jn. 19:41).
  • The body is laid in a tomb before the start of Sabbath (Matt. 27:57-60; Mark 15:42; Lk. 23:54; Jn. 19:42).

His Resurrection

  • Jesus is resurrected on the first day of the week before dawn or early in the morning (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Lk. 24:1: Jn. 20:1).
  • Mary Magdalene is the first at the empty tomb (Matt. 27:61; Mark 15:47-16:1; Lk. 24:1-10; Jn. 20:1, 10-18).
  • The stone is discovered to be rolled away (Matt. 28:2; Mark 16:4; Lk. 24:2; Jn. 20:1).
  • Mary Magdalene is named as being blessed with the first divine appearances (Matt. 28:5-10; Mark 16:5-8; Lk. 24:4-10; Jn. 20:10-18).
  • Jesus says, “Peace be with you” (Lk. 24:36; Jn. 20:19, 21, 26).
  • He appears to men disciples (Matt. 28:16-20; Lk. 24:13-35, 36-49; Jn. 20:19-29; 21:4-23).
  • After the resurrection, he shares bread and fish with his disciples (Lk. 24:30, 42-43; Jn. 21:10-15).
  • Luke and John emphatically insist on a bodily resurrection (Lk. 24:38-43; Jn. 20:27; 21:10-15).

2. So what’s the bottom line for the historical reliability of the four Gospels?

For me, the most surprising feature of this list is how often the four Gospels share similarities: about 149 out of a grand total of 226 items, which makes 66%.

The four Gospels cohere together in a unified storyline and present the same characters in the life of Jesus, though, of course, an author like John omits some and highlights others. But Peter’s life, for example, remains the same, in broad outline.

3. Why do the four Gospels share the same storyline?

Jesus’ ministry and death are rooted in a life story, in history, in time and place, in Israel about four decades before the destruction of the temple in AD 70 by the Roman General Titus (in that link see an image on the Arch of Titus of the Menorah [and more] triumphantly being carried through Rome).

Broadly speaking, the chronology in this list follows the ministry of Jesus because he lived one day at a time – chronologically, historically, as we all do. So it is only natural that his life story would be recounted in the Biblical Gospels – from his spiritual encounter with John at the Jordan River to Jesus’ resurrection.

4. But what about all the variations between the Gospels?

If a Gospel author varies the order of the story or omits characters – variations and omissions that all Greco-Roman authors used – then these decisions do not take away from the bigger chronology in the Gospels. Sometimes the authors emphasized theology and literary techniques, instead of a strict chronology or sequence. But this does not mean that they did not anchor their stories in historical events and a broad sequence. It is inconceivable, to cite absurd examples, that the death and resurrection would be placed before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem or before Judas’ betrayal. But within the chronology of Christ’s life, it is possible, for instance, to alternate the scenes of Peter’s denials with the scenes of Jesus’ trial, as John brilliantly – and touchingly – does (18:12-27).

This long list demonstrates how stable the traditions were. To cite an example, when the author of John wrote his Gospel (probably) in the 90's, the Baptist's name was still known as John, not Simon or Jacob. We should not take these facts or this stability for granted.

Bottom line: coherence of the same storyline in four accounts implies stability. Stability means historical reliability. It's that simple.

5. So does the huge number of agreements between the four Gospels indicate a common "pool" of traditions about the life of Christ, or do they indicate eyewitness testimony?

The answer is both. In John's case, I have reached the decision that it was written by an eyewitness. But he also had a stable "pool" of traditions from which to draw. The life of Christ presented in a broad, outlined story provides easy access to the common pool of traditions and remembrances and repetition by the tradition transmitters. This pool explains, in part, why Matthew, Mark, and Luke agree, even if we assume that Matthew and Luke borrow from Mark. There had to be a starting point. We already learned in the article on Mark's Gospel that Peter was the main eyewitness in this Gospel. Undoubtedly, he wisely decided that the best way to preach the gospel is to follow Jesus' life story, though of course he may have told short anecdotes in a context, and Mark put things in a broad storyline.

Another important feature of this long list is the category “Geography and Locations” near the beginning of the article. Even John, the so-called spiritual Gospel, anchors Christ’s life in geography, as we observed in the article about Archaeology and John’s Gospel. Jesus really did teach, for example, in the synagogue in Capernaum, which is confirmed in the Synoptics.

Back to the issue of storytelling and a storyline -- in my view, stories are easier to remember and repeat than is a list of facts or disconnected or barely connected pile of sayings. Stories provide a context and natural order that accurately jar the memory.

Years ago I attended the performance of a memory expert. He asked the audience to give him a list of digits or numbers, from zero to nine,  one digit at a time. The audience randomly shouted out about thirty of them. He wrote them across the chalkboard, in the order (or disorder) we gave him. He turned his back on the board, faced us, and repeated the string of digits in the exact order on the board. How? Long before this performance, he had developed and assigned a comical character to each digit from zero to nine. As he wrote them on the board, he developed a story in his mind, from one random digit to the next in our string. He told himself the story according to the sequence and narrative interaction of the digits that were “characterized.” So the randomness of the series received order by story.

All analogies are flawed if they are pushed too far. This true anecdote is not to say that the Gospel tradition transmitters and the Gospel authors were modern memory experts (though they may have come close). Nor does the anecdote say that the Gospel authors always follow a strict and detailed chronology. Nor especially does it say that the Gospel traditions were randomly thrown onto “the chalkboard” of a transmitter’s memory. Sometimes sayings alone have value.

But the anecdote is to say that a story is very helpful in remembering accurately, and a story also helps the storyteller's memory of the main characters – the exact requirements and layout of both the above list and the memory expert’s technique. To cite the ultimate illustration, the Grand Narrative or Story of the Iliad surely helped Homer, an oral poet, in keeping track of the main plot and subplots and the many characters.

6. How does this list apply to the Gnostic gospels?

The Gnostic gospels in the latest edition of the Nag Hammadi collection do not come anywhere near this detailed, unified storyline in the four Biblical Gospels. These heretical texts seem glad to engage in nothing but dialogues and discussions with very few references to historical facts. Gnostic teachings are disembodied and cut off from the real-life story of Jesus; no one can be confident that he or his disciples actually said or did those things in the Gnostic texts, except a few passages that obviously derive from the earlier Biblical Gospels. Thus, this long list provides us with hard evidence for our intuition that the Gnostic texts stray far from the life and teaching and works of Jesus, as they really happened. Therefore, the early church fathers were right to distance themselves and their churches from the Gnostic heresy.

On a much smaller scale than the early church’s orthodox struggle with heresies, it is misguided to place the words orthodoxy or heresy in quotation marks as the heavy promoters of the Gnostic texts do nowadays. There really was a heresy and an orthodoxy back then; we can see the distinctions when we compare the teachings of the Biblical Gospels and the teaching of the Gnostic texts.

7. So what does all of this mean to the Church of all denominations?

The Church needs to have confidence in this age of mass media mud slinging on the Biblical Gospels. Boosting the confidence of the Church has been the main goal of the entire series.

These things in this list were really done and spoken. They are reality. We need to tell the story of the unified, essential Gospel to whoever will listen to us.

References and Further Reading

Paul N. Anderson. “Aspects of Historicity in the Gospel of John: Implications for Investigations of Jesus and Archaeology.” In James H. Charlesworth. Jesus and Archaeology. Eerdman’s, 2006. Pp. 587-618.

Richard Bauckham. The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John. Baker Academic, 2007.

Raymond E. Brown. The Gospel According to John. Vols. 1 and 2. The Anchor Bible. Double Day, 1966-1970.

Craig Blomberg. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. 2nd ed. Intervarsity, 2007. See Chapter Five.

---. The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel. Intervarsity, 2001. Very helpful for this article.

C. H. Dodd. Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel. Cambridge UP, 1963.

Leon Morris. Studies in the Fourth Gospel. Eerdmans, 1969.

D. Moody Smith. John among the Gospels. 2nd ed. South Carolina UP, 2001.

What really helped me the most was an exhaustive concordance. I look at each entry, each word, Matthew through John, one page at a time. I am so grateful that we have very many details about our Lord's life and ministry. They are not myths. We can confidently know what he said and did.


Related Topics: Gospels