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Gospels for the Early Church: Means, Motive and Opportunity

Presented at NW Regional ETS Conference, April 2019
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This paper considers the means, motive, and opportunity for the production of written Gospels by the apostles during the earliest years following the death and resurrection of Jesus, in support of an expanding church. Based on a review of contemporary Greek and Latin literature it will be shown that the publication of the Gospels was only a relatively modest accomplishment. Further, distribution of the earliest Gospel(s), once published, was supported by a Roman trade network which provided ample means for the circulation of these documents. Therefore, Gospel development theories should consider the possibility of early Gospel production and should be biased towards the assumption that each Gospel was produced with full awareness of prior publications. In addition, the scattering of early Jewish and Gentile believers who were accustomed to the use of written materials in support of oral presentations would have provided a sufficient motivation for the publication of Gospels. A collaborative development effort, especially while the apostles were yet in Jerusalem, offered an ideal opportunity where the effort would have been supported by local resources and a literate priesthood. Given these observations, modern synoptic development theories should be re-evaluated to ensure that they adequately consider the literary situation within the Roman empire, the potential demand of early believers for written materials, and the advantageous circumstances supporting publication of Gospels within the earliest years of the church.

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