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How Did Jesus’s Writers Present the Spoken Word?

  • April 26, 2019
  • By Ben van Noort
How Did Jesus’s Writers Present the Spoken Word?

How Did Jesus’s Writers Present the Spoken Word?


The question is: What rules did Jesus’ writers explore in presenting the spoken word in the Gospels? 

Rules of the Presentation of the Spoken Word
1. A single (simple) introduction to present a complete saying. ‘Single’ means: one ‘speaking’ verb in the introduction. For instance: He said, he answered etc.

Rule 2. A double (twofold) introduction to present a part of what was said. ‘Double’ means: two ‘speaking’ verbs in the introduction. For instance: He answered saying, he screamed and said etc.
Rule 3. If the subject of an introduction is plural, only the quote of one person is given, e.g.: They answered, they shouted saying etc. Similar quotes of other individuals are ruled out. The direct speech of only one individual is given. And so each gospel can give a different quote, in case of several reactions. 
Let’s have a look at the well-known passages of Peter’s confession (NASB).

15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16Simon Peter answered [and said], “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15-16)

29And He continued by questioning them, “But who do you say that I am?”
answered and said
to Him, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29)

20And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)

Take note, […] means: in Greek original, but not in English translation

Rule 1. Single Introduction
When Jesus asked “But who do you say that I am?”, we see the same question verbatim in Matthew, Mark and Luke. And according to the first rule we see in all these cases a single introduction; respectively: ‘said’ (Matthew), ‘questioning’ (Mark), ‘said’ (Luke). As the same question is given (verbatim), it is correct that each quote has a single introduction.

Rule 2. Double Introduction
When we look at Peter’s replies, we see that they differ in Matthew, Mark and Luke in wording. Respectively

  • “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
  • “You are the Christ.”
  • “The Christ of God!”

The explanation of this phenomenon is that a double introduction precedes each reply: ‘answered and said’.
Unfortunately this double introduction has disappeared in most English versions as the translators didn’t understand it (only a partial representation of the spoken word).

Peter’s Answer
What did Peter actually reply? “The Christ of God (Luke). You are the Christ (Mark). You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew).” The figure of speech he used is an enumeration with increasing force. The repetitions were ruled out in the three final reports, as was common practice among Jesus’ writers.

In antiquity many books were intended to be read in public. Jesus’ writers made reports for different groups. They made teaching reports for the inner circle of disciples, public reports for the wider public (Luke 1:1-2). What they had not used was brought together in remnant reports. Generally speaking: Matthew used teaching records for his gospel. Luke used public records and Mark the remnant records. This practice forced them to distribute the spoken word over three types of reports, immediately after the occurrences, which came later in the synoptic gospels.

Rule 3. Plural Introduction
Prior to Peter’s confession Jesus asked his disciples what the people said about Him.

14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)

28They told Him, saying, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.”  (Mark 8:28)

19They answered and said, “John the Baptist, and others say Elijah; but others, that one of the prophets of old has risen again.”  (Luke 9:19)

Now we see three replies of the disciples in Matthew, Mark and Luke with slight differences and in each case a plural introduction precedes: ‘And they said’ (Matthew), ‘’They told him saying’ (Mark), ‘They answered and said’ (Luke). These differences are precisely what was to be expected according to rule 3. Three reports had been made after the event and each report contains one reaction of the disciples.Take note: the reports of Mark and Luke did not present full replies, but in part (double introductions).

Important Consequences

  • The three types of reports being made after the events of Jesus, were made by the same writers!
  • They targeted several groups: dedicated disciples, interested public, common people.
  • These groups remained after Jesus’s death and resurrection and for them the reports were compiled in the Gospels, respectively: Matthew, Luke, Mark.
  • The Gospels were written at the same time. As writers who had been working in Jesus’s ministry they had at their disposal all the relevant materials.
  • The Gospels were no local books who had been published at different times and places long after Jesus’s ascension. No, they were needed immediately after Pentecost.
  • These 5 fields of research can be derived from the analysis of the Confession of Peter.

The rules for the presentation of the spoken word in the Gospels are pretty natural, and I am always surprised to never have found them in any theological book, treatise or study. It is a pity that theologians usually explain the differences in the sayings of Jesus as changes, due to an oral tradition prior to the writing of the Gospels, or due to a translation from Aramaic into Greek, or due to changes by the gospel writers themselves. These are the three theological standard barriers that make it difficult to meet the sayings of Jesus freely.

Fortunately we don’t need these artificial assumptions, if we simply apply the rules of Jesus’s writers. As common Christians let’s stick to the old Christian creed: Listening to Jesus’s words is listening to Him. This is the highest and the best we can achieve in Christian affairs.

By Ben van Noort, April 26, 2019