The Churches' Gospels

Sources: Mark Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze (Continuum, 2001); Graham Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford, 1989); David Wenham and Steve Walton, Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Gospels and Acts (IVP, 2001); Raymond E. Brown, The New Testament: an Introduction (Doubleday, 1997); Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 3d ed. (Oxford, 2004).

Memories of Jesus
The NT letters vary in their attention to the details of Jesus' life.
Some letters suggest a deeper knowledge and teaching than they reveal (Phil. 2:8, Rom. 14:14 || Matt. 15:11, Rom. 14:17, 1 Cor. 2:8 || Thomas 17, Hebrews, James, Revelation).
Some draw on traditions of Jesus, but not consistently (1 Cor. 7:10 || Matt. 5:31-32, 1 Cor. 9:14 || Matt. 10:10, 1 Thess. 4:15).
Others draw more consistently on material about or from Jesus' life (1 Pet. 2:20-25).
Almost all are grounded in Jesus' death and resurrection as determinative.
These letters are evidence of the earliest churches attending to Jesus' story.
The Gospels focus on that story.
What is the Gospels' literary genre?
A Greco-Roman bios (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana)?
A modern history (Johnston Cheney, Life of Christ in Stereo)?
A special creation of the Church (William Wrede, The Messianic Secret)?
Ask not, "What really happened?" ...
but ask "Are the narrators trustworthy?"
An Embarrassment of Riches: The "Synoptic Problem"
The four canonical gospels both resemble and differ from one another.
Coverage overlaps:
Jesus' baptism; itinerant ministry; passion.
Coverage differs:
birth stories; Matthew's blocks of teaching; Luke's "travel narrative"; John's monologues; resurrection stories.
Orders of events agree:
Matthew and Luke basically follow Mark's order.
Orders depart:
Matthew and Luke tend to disagree where they depart from Mark;
John consistently brings events earlier in his narrative (e.g., the Temple disturbance — John 2:13-17).
Details match:
Many stories are found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke ("Triple Tradition"); many others are in two of the three; some are in all four.
Details notably differ:
even in common stories
 (the crucifixion — Mark 15:33-39 || Matt. 27:45-54 || Luke 23:44-48);
also in both short and long stretches of material unique to one gospel.
Narrative tendencies concur:
numerous literary dependencies
 (the desolating sacrilege — Mark 13:14-20 || Matt. 24:15-22 || Luke 21:20-24);
Narrative tendencies are distinct:
Matthew and Luke "correct" Mark's syntax and discomforting claims
 (Jesus leaves Capernaum — Mark 1:35-38 || Luke 4:42-43,
rejection at Nazareth — Mark 6:1-6 || Matt. 3:53-58 || Luke 4:16-30,
the rich young ruler — Mark 10:17-18 || Matt. 19:16-17);
all the differences listed above create consistent effects in each Gospel
 (the leaven of the Pharisees — Mark 8:14-21 || Matt. 16:5-12 || Luke 12:1).
The Gospels' Editorial Process
Teachings and memories of Jesus begin as apostolic preaching and oral traditions (Papias of Hierapolis).
Early Church tradition (Augustine): Matthew wrote first, Mark redacted (edited) Matthew.
Griesbach Hypothesis: Matthew wrote first, Luke redacted Matt., Mark redacted both.
Markan priority (Karl Lachmann): Matthew and Luke draw on Mark (C.K. Barrett: and John as well).
The Two-Source Hypothesis: Matthew and Luke may also draw on another written source, "Q" (for Quelle, "Source"; so H.J. Holtzmann).
Q-Skepticism: Mark is prior, but Luke may have known Matthew as well as oral tradition (A.M. Farrer, M.D. Goulder, Mark Goodacre).
Each Gospel has its own literary character and goal (see each Gospel's prologue).
The Church circulated and soon, universally, canonized our four Gospels.