The Case for a Proto-Gospel and Standard Source Criticism Theory

In order to follow my series of blog posts on The Case for a Proto-Gospel, it will be helpful to understand the basic principles of current gospel source criticism and where I introduce some new ideas that enhance our understanding of gospel origins.

We call Mark, Luke and Matthew the “Synoptic Gospels” because if you read them along side of each other you find numerous instances where all three gospels seem to be telling the same story, often using many of the same words, and these shared stories frequently followed in the same sequential order. This suggests that there is some sort of literary relationship among the three gospels involving at least one written source. Figuring out what that relationship is what scholars call “the Synoptic Problem.”

Further analysis shows that in most instances where two of the three gospels agree against the third gospel as to either words used or sequential order, scholars find that either Mark and Matthew agree against Luke or Mark and Luke agree against Matthew. This suggests that Mark is probably the hub gospel and the other two use Mark as a source. However, there a few “minor” instances where Matthew and Luke agree against Mark.

I’m Starting a Blog Series on The Case for a Proto-Gospel

In my new peer-reviewed academic study, The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John, I explore a number of new paths and insights into the origins of the gospels and early Christian History. It is, to the best of my knowledge, the first systematic study of every incident in the Gospel of John (except for speeches, discourse and “I Am” sayings) that cross-references almost every incident in the Gospel of Mark (except for speeches, discourses, parables, doublets and most exorcisms) and establishes a direct literary relationship between both gospels, both as to story content and substantial sequential agreement in story order. But, like many lengthy academic studies, it is expensive and targeted primarily to an academic audience. The cost probably exceeds the book-buying budgets of many of my readers and followers.

Therefore, in order to share my discoveries with a wider audience, over the next several weeks I will blog about a number of my interesting discoveries on the origins of the gospels and early Christian history. If this interests you, and you’re not a subscriber to this blog, I recommend that you subscribe. There is no charge and your subscription will generate an email notice any time I post something new. Just enter your email address in the subscription box and click “subscribe.” The subscription box appears somewhere on the home page, depending on what sort of device you use for browsing.

“The Case for a Proto-Gospel” is now available.

I just received my author copies from Peter Lang for “The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the common written source behind Mark and John.” Now i feel like it is officially published. It’s a big book, over 700 pages, and peer-reviewed.

In the course of the work I examine every biographical episode in John’s account of Jesus’s life (excluding speeches, discourses, and “I Am” sayings) and cross-reference them against Mark, looking for literary patterns. My primary technique was to examine the theological differences between Mark and John and show what John would object to in Mark’s gospel and what corrections John would want to make if he knew versions of the same story.

Ultimately, I demonstrate that John knew Mark’s written source (but not Mark itself) and John had profound theological differences with it. He wrote his gospel as a substitute for the earlier source and in a very large number of incidents even follows Mark’s sequence of events with rewritten stories that explored the same issues and themes present in the Markan stories.

Because of the many changes and alterations John made to Mark’s stories, it is difficult to see that John and Mark frequently describe the same incidents from different perspectives. In effect, John serves as a thorough-going critique of Mark’s gospel, challenging it on many levels, theological and historical. There is even some evidence that this earlier source, which I refer to as the Alpha Gospel, preceded Paul’s letters.

From the book’s back cover

In this landmark study of the literary relationship between the gospel of John and the synoptic gospels, Gary Greenberg presents compelling evidence for the existence of a written pre-canonical Alpha gospel that contained almost all of the main episodes in the adult life of Jesus (excluding major speeches, such as discourses, parables, and “I Am” sayings) and which became the written source for the core biography of Jesus in Mark, Luke, John, and Matthew. While Mark used the Alpha gospel with only slight variations, John had profound theological disagreements with it, objecting to its theological message about how to obtain eternal life, the depiction of Jesus, and other matters. This induced him to rewrite the Alpha gospel so that it conformed to his own very different theological agenda. Consequently, John’s gospel functions as a thorough theological critique of Mark, but the changes he introduced made it difficult to see how he and Mark worked from the same written source. By using John’s theological concerns as a filter for reading and understanding what objections John would have with Mark’s Jesus stories, The Case for a Proto-Gospel reverse-engineers the editorial path taken by John and reconstructs the content of the Alpha gospel. Finally, the author discusses the relationship of the other two synoptic gospels to the Alpha gospel, asserting that Luke also knew the Alpha gospel but used Mark as his primary source, and that while Matthew did not know the Alpha gospel, his use of Mark as a primary source ensured that his core biography of Jesus also derived from this earlier source.

This link will take you to the Peter Lang page where you can find a Table of Contents.

“The Case for a Proto-Gospel” officially published

I have been advised today that Peter Lang has officially released my book, The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John. It can be ordered from Amazon and many other book sellers. It is also available on the Peter Lang website in Hardcover, EPUB and Kindle editions. Academics interested in publishing a review should contact

Barrie Wilson, Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar, Religious Studies, York University, Toronto, says of my new work,

Gary Greenberg is a superb intellectual detective, following up on tantalizing clues in ancient texts to uncover sources and insights that others have missed. In this latest work Gary traces similarities between the Gospel of John and the earlier Gospel of Mark. In so doing, he makes a remarkable discovery — lurking behind both gospels is an earlier document that each has used, independently of the other. Here is a new source document that sheds important light on the crucial decades following Jesus’ death.

Carefully crafted, well written, based on historical and literary analysis, Gary’s book enhances our understanding not only of the Gospels of John and Mark but the process whereby the gospels themselves came to be.

Is John a Synoptic Gospel?

I have a new piece up at the Bible and Interpretation site, titled “Is John a Synoptic Gospel?” It’s based on my forthcoming book “The Case for a Proto-Gospel: Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John.” It’s in the final stage of manuscript preparation before going to the printer, but I have to work out some final pre-press issues with the publisher. Hopefully, it will go to press in March.

Theological Studies reviews my book “Proving Jesus’ Authority in Mark and John.”

Theological Studies 80(3) recently published a nice review of my book, “Proving Jesus’ Authority in Mark and John.” A couple of briefexcerpts:

” The result is a fine inquiry which. . . represents a positive contribution to Johannine and Synoptic scholarship. “

“Some of G.’s keen observations are well taken and should generate further discussion. In fact, their presence makes the book recommended reading for serious students of John’s Gospel.”

“As for his readers, both the general audience and specialists will be treated to a well-written, provocative, and informative inquiry into a lingering mystery in New Testament studies.”

The Eucharist Problem: John vs. Paul

I’m pleased to report that Bible and Interpretation just published an article by me titled The Eucharist Problem: John versus Paul. It argues that John, writing about a half-century after Paul, preserved a pre-Pauline form of the Eucharist teaching and that Paul’s revelation is a radical reinterpretation and explanation of what Jesus must have meant when he delivered the version preserved by John.

Did John Historicize the Parable of the Wicked Tenant?

One of the most significant disagreements between John and the synoptic gospels (Mark, Luke, Matthew) revolves around Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem. The synoptic gospels place the incident over three days in the last week of Jesus’ life. John places the visit over several months and ends it at about three months before Jesus is arrested. Where the synoptic gospels say Jesus went to the Temple during those three days, John says Jesus was hiding away to avoid arrest (on the theological principle that his hour had not yet come.)