Reflection on a Synoptic Gospel Passage

Studying the gospels as distinct efforts to tell the story of Jesus in different ways is new to many of you. Even to those of us who have some experience doing it, there is always more to learn. This assignment provides some training in the practice of reading a passage in the synoptic gospels in the context of its narrative.

Choose a passage in Matthew, Mark, or Luke. It may have parallels with other passages in other gospels (for instance, the crucifixion scene that is shared by all three) or it may be a passage found in only one (for instance, the Annunciation).

Now show how that passage operates within the context of that particular gospel — reflecting the demonstrable interests of that evangelist, playing a substantive part in the story of Jesus' ministry as it unfolds in that book, and so on. If your passage has parallels, you may wish to contrast the role its parallel plays in other gospels (even, optionally, John), but this is of secondary importance compared to the primary task of showing the roles it plays in its own literary context.

Finally, answer this question: What is the benefit (the 'payoff') of that attention you have paid to that passage's narrative (and perhaps its synoptic) context? Compared to a close reading of the passage that ignores its wider narrative context, how does this analysis contribute to your appreciation of Jesus and his work? How does (or doesn't) it contribute to your trust of the evangelist who wrote that gospel?

Choose your passage wisely! Most study Bibles will have footnotes noting parallel passages; Johnson can bring some of these to your attention as well. Choose a passage that looks especially promising for fulfilling the assignment, but do not choose a passage that we have explored in class. You may wish to pick a passage that you, your church, or others you know find troubling because of its different synoptic contexts, as a test to see whether this kind of study can ease those troubles.

Please keep your answer 3-4 double-spaced pages. Follow the directions in my handout for writing papers insofar as they apply. Remember, I want to see proper style, clear writing, a thorough answer to the question, and explicit citations of course materials.

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