Course of Study 321:
Bible III: The Gospels and Acts (Winter '15)
*** Please note: this site is currently in development, but should align with the syllabus distributed by the Course of Study office. Please scroll to the bottom of this page, click on the box that says "Follow this page," and add your email. That will allow me to automatically update you on changes and additions made to the site. ***
The above icons from the 9th–16th centuries represent the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John respectively). Photos of the images are courtesy of Rromir Imami. Imami has put together a wonderful collection of images with short explanations here.
Welcome to COS 321 (Winter 2015)
Welcome to the Course of Study 321 interactive syllabus. Please take time to familiarize yourself with the information on this page, and keep checking back for additional resources that will be added in the coming weeks.
Though there are multiple objectives to this course and the following New Testament course, the overall objective is that students would become more confident, careful, and creative readers and interpreters of scripture. The course aims to equip students with practices, tools, and theological reflection that open up the New Testament for effective preaching and teaching.
About the Instructor
Christopher T. Holmes
PhD Candidate, Emory University, Graduate Division of Religion
Chris is a PhD candidate in the New Testament course of study in the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University. Informed by the larger religious and cultural world out of which early Christianity emerged, Chris approaches the study and interpretation of the New Testament with attention to the literary and theological particularities of the New Testament compositions and their use in contemporary faith communities. His research interests include the varieties of Judaism in antiquity, religious experience in the ancient Mediterranean world, ancient literary and rhetorical theory, and the history of interpretation of the New Testament. Chris teaches both of the New Testament classes for Course of Study. He is an aspiring reader of fiction and poetry, a confounded (and tired) parent of two great kids, a recovering collegiate athlete, an experimenting cook, and an inconsistent viewer of college football and basketball. Since moving to Atlanta, he and his wife have come to love the seasonal festivals and local eateries. Chris is also a candidate for Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The Course of Study (COS hereafter) sequence in New Testament provides a panoramic view of the literary content and theological perspectives of the compositions in the New Testament. The two courses place these compositions and their respective messages and meanings in the social and historical context of the ancient Mediterranean world. In addition, the two courses help students develop and practice skills of exegesis and interpretation. Thus, there are two overlapping questions driving the NT COS sequence:
(1) “How do the compositions of the NT function as literary expressions of early Christianity’s faith and history?”
(2) “How can the compositions of the NT be interpreted and applied in preaching, teaching, and pastoral care in a way that is informed by their literary and historical nature AND applicable, challenging, and inspiring for contemporary faith communities?”
COS 321, the first class in the sequence, focuses on the distinctive portrayals of Jesus found in the four gospels and the portrait of the early church in the book of Acts. The course fosters the close reading of these writings that leads to a greater appreciation of the unique content, message, and structure of each gospel and Acts.
Students will be able to:
- Understand the origin, message, and purpose of each gospel
- Analyze this form of literature exegetically
- Apply exegesis to preaching, other pastoral responsibilities, and issues of the present day
In addition, students will:
- Review the scope of the New Testament writings and the formation of the NT canon
- Explore the historical and social background from which the NT derives
- Cultivate and participate in informed and respectful class discussions
- Explore the origin & development of the Christian faith and community during the first century
The books below are the required textbooks for COS 321. Please note that each image contains a link to the listing of each book on Amazon.com. Students are welcome to purchase used books, but must ensure that the correct edition is purchased.
Harrelson, Walter J, ed. The New Interpreter's Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 2003.
Holladay, Carl R. A Critical Introduction to the New Testament: Interpreting the Message and Meaning of Jesus Christ. Exp. ed. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005.
Murphy, Frederick J. An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2005.
Throckmorton, Burton H., ed. Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels. 5th ed. Nashville, Tenn.; Atlanta: Thomas Nelson, 1992.
Culpepper, R. Alan. Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983.
Gorman, Michael J. Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers. Rev. and expanded ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009.
<<This book will be used extensively in COS 521>>
Powell, Mark Allan. Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009.
Ringe, Sharon H. Luke. Westminster Bible Companion. Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox, 1995.
Smith, D. Moody. John. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1999.
- Timely and satisfactory completion of Precourse work (25% of total grade)
- Class attendance and participation, reading of the New Testament, and secondary texts (10% of total grade)
- Completion of Writing Assignments #2 and #3 (40% of total grade, each worth 20%). Due before 8am on February 7, 2015 and February 28, 2015 respectively
- Successful completion (passing) of a final multiple-choice exam (25%). Final Exam on February 28, 2015 ****
- Grading of papers follows the Candler Course of Study Grading Policy (for more information, see here). Particular attention is paid to the established Grade Grid for papers and class participation
- For the multiple choice tests a basic point system is followed. Keep in mind that most conferences require a letter grade of C or better to pass the course.
- A 94–100
- A- 91–93
- B+ 87–90
- B 84–86
- B- 81–83
- C+ 77–80
- C 74–76
- C- 71–73
- D 67–70
- F 0–66
In Preparation for Precourse Work and First Week of Class
1) Carefully read and complete one exegetical brief (see below for more information) for each of the following New Testament books: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts
2) For precourse work, read the following from the course books:
- Holladay, chs. 1–10 (pp. 1–260)
- Murphy, Introduction + chs. 2–6 (pp. 43–290)
- Johnson, "The New Testament as the Church's Book," in Writings of the New Testament (pp. 528–41). Available here.
3) Before the first week of class, complete the following:
- Review reading from Holladay and Murphy (see above)
- Re-read the Gospels and Acts from your study bible
- Read Throckmorton, "Preface," (pp. v–xxvi, especially v–x).
Precourse Work Writing Assignment:
Due to COS office 1/12/15
Provide written answers to the questions below.
- Answers should be emailed to the COS office by the stated deadline of January 12, 2015
- Answers should be altogether in one email
- Be sure to make a copy of your work before you send it
- Please review and follow the guidelines for emailing assignments that are listed at the end of the precourse assignments.
- Your answers to each question should be typed, double-spaced, Times New Roman font, 12 point, 1-inch margins, and in Word Doc format.
- Please include in the header your email address, name, and page numbers
Part I: Exegetical Briefs [5 x 1 page single-spaced = 10 pages double-spaced]
Complete one-page (single-spaced) exegetical briefs for each of the four gospels and Acts. Completion of these
briefs should emerge from your own close reading of the biblical text and responsible
use of insights from course books.
Before consulting/reviewing the secondary literature, read each of the four gospels and Acts in one sitting.
- Read the introduction from the Study Bible carefully
- Be aware of the structure of the gospel, both as it is summarized in the study bible introduction and as you see the structure
- Read with a computer or notepad to make short notes about themes, problems, and theological perspective in each composition
Then, use personal reading along with course books to write an exegetical brief for each composition
- Holladay, chs. 6–10 (pp. 104–260)
- Murphy, chs. 3–6 (pp. 89–290)
Writing an Exegetical Brief:
- Exegetical briefs should be NO MORE than 1-page single spaced
- The format is optional, but an exegetical brief should at least give consideration to the composition’s (1) literary structure; (2) exegetical and literary features; (3) religious or theological perspective.
*** Examples and .pdf of the above tutorial are available here. ***
Part II: New Testament Worlds [3 pages total]
“The Gospels come from a world very different from our own” (Murphy, 43). Show how this statement is true:
- Summarize the distinctive characteristics and elements of the historical, social, and cultural settings necessary for understanding the gospels. [2 pages]
- Show how knowledge of this background information may assist the reading and interpretation of the gospels by using one passage from a gospel as an example. [1 page]
Part III: The New Testament Canon [4 pages total]
Given the popularity of The Da Vinci Code and the History Channel’s “Bible Secrets Revealed,” you’ve been asked by members of the adult education committee to write a brief (four pages total) overview of the process of canonization of the NT for an upcoming newsletter. In your overview, be sure to include a discussion of:
- The various lists of the NT canon, including matters of how the books were arranged and which were included (see especially Holladay, 26–36). [ca. 1 page]
- The major steps or aspects in the process of the canonization of the NT from the first-century CE to the fourth-century CE (see especially Holladay, 571–88). Be sure to include those major events or figures in the process AND their implications for the NT canon. [ca. 1 page]
- The relationship between the process of canonization and the formation of Christian identity (see Holladay, pp. 588–92; cf. Johnson, 525–46 [available here and on Blackboard]). [ca. 1 page]
- The reason why an understanding of the canonization process and the NT canon itself is important for your congregation’s worship and practice. [1 page or less]
Writing Assignment #2:
Due to Instructor 2/7/15 by 8am
Part I: Comparing Gospels [4 pages total]
Use the course books and your own careful reading of the gospels to answer the following questions.
- Compare and contrast two  of the following as they related to MARK and to MATTHEW: (1) The depiction of Jesus; (2) The miracles of Jesus; (3) The disciples/church [2 pages]
- Compare and contrast how Matthew, Luke, and John each begin; how does the beginning of each relate the distinctiveness of each gospel? [1 page]
- Compare and contrast the role of non-Jews in Matthew and Luke [1 page]
Part II: Critical Study of the Gospels [3 pages
Both Holladay (pp. 58–75) and Murphy (pp. 1–42) utilize the phrase “From Jesus to the Gospels” to introduce the principles and methods for the critical study of the gospels. Discuss these principles and methods, including:
- The types and features of the major literary forms included in the gospels. [1 page]
- The most significant models for explaining the transition “from Jesus to the Gospels.” [1 page]
- An overview of the various critical methods for studying the gospels discussed in Murphy, including an analysis of the two  methods that seem most natural to you and the two  that seem most strange and why this is so. [1 page]
Writing Assignment #3:
Due to Instructor 2/28/15 by 8am
Synopsis Write-Up [3–5 pages total]
This assignment is meant to explore the literary relationships between the Synoptic Gospels.
the passage (to be distributed in class on Feb. 7) using the following key:
_____ blue = words found identically in all three Synoptic gospels;
_____ yellow = words found identically in
Matthew and Mark;
_____ red = words found identically in Matthew
_____ green = words found in Mark and Luke
- Based on the analysis above, briefly restate or reconstruct the core story that the three gospels share. Try not to elaborate or expand, but focus on the shared literary features and ideas. [.5 pages]
- List and analyze the similarities and differences between the three accounts. Full credit will only be given if similarities/differences are both listed AND analyzed. (A simple chart without further explanation will not suffice.) [1 page]
- From the above, select one of the three accounts and consider why the author tells the story in the way that he does. What do they tell you about his conception of Jesus, other characters in the story, and so forth? [1.5 pages]
Jesus [3 pages total]
Holladay (pp. 77–103) and Murphy (pp. 317–74) provide a summary of how the so-called historical Jesus relates to the gospels, but they do so in different ways:
- What are the three  most significant differences between the two accounts? Differences may include how they present the question, the conclusions they reach, and so forth. [1 page]
- In what ways are the two accounts similar? [.5 page]
- What are the criteria typically used by scholars to arrive at the historical Jesus? Which of these do you find most convincing? Which is least convincing? Why? [1.5 pages]
Agenda: Day 1 (January 24, 2015)
(Subject to adjustment/modification)
9:00–9:45: Worship (Wesley Teaching Chapel)
9:50–12:00: Class Session #1
- Introductions and Orientation to the Course
- The World(s) of the New Testament
- New Testament World Activity (time permitting)
12:00–1:00: Lunch Break
1:00–3:00: Class Session #2
- What are the Gospels?
- The Gospel of Mark
3:00–3:15: Snack Break
3:15–5:00: Class Session #3
- Rewriting Mark: Relating the First Three Gospels
- Synopsis Activity
- Looking Forward
Presentations and Lecture Notes:
- Welcome and Introduction
- The World(s) of the New Testament; .pdf version
- What are the Gospels?; .pdf version
- The Gospel of Mark; .pdf version
- Rewriting Mark; .pdf version
- Gospel Quiz; Answers; original online quiz
- Ancient Judaism as Philosophy handout
- Synopsis Activity
- Synopsis Activity: .pdf version/.doc version
- Notes from In-Class Discussion
Resources for Further Study:
- Synoptic Problem website: a comprehensive
introduction to the synoptic problem, the variety
of "solutions" to it, and other valuable
- Parallel Bible website: an online parallel (similar to Throckmorton) that compares passages from the NT gospels and the Gospel of Thomas.
- Mark Goodacre's collection of study resources for the Gospel of Mark
- Introductory videos to Mark from Bibledex Project and Yale Open Course
- Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them
- Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism
Oldest Gospel Manuscript Discovered?
Britt Priddy sent me an email about a recent discovery that has been in the news over the past couple of weeks. As you may have heard, Craig Evans, a New Testament professor at Arcadia Divinity School, has found what he thinks to be the earliest fragment of the Gospel of Mark, perhaps dating to 90CE. I have posted to the right the several articles related to the discovery. It is always fun and interesting—though often sensational and not always helpful—when NT studies appears in national news outlets. Thanks to Britt for his email!
Agenda: Day 2 (February 7, 2015):
(Subject to adjustment/modification)
9:00–10:15: Class Session #1
- Gospel of Matthew
10:15–10:30: Stretch Break
10:30–12:00: Class Session #2
- Gospel of Luke
- Practicing with the Synopsis
12:00–1:00: Lunch Break
1:00–3:00 Class Session #3
- Discuss Homework: Comparing Gospels
- Acts of the Apostles
3:00–3:15: Snack Break
3:15–5:00: Class Session #4
- Gospel of John
- Gospel of John Activity
Presentations and Lecture Notes:
- Gospel of Matthew Prezi; .pdf version
- Gospel of Luke; .pdf version
- Acts of the Apostles; .pdf version
- Gospel of John Prezi; .pdf version
Resources for Further Study:
- Interesting (and short) article from the Society of Biblical Literature's Bible Odyssey site on Jesus's literacy, relevant perhaps to Jesus's presentation at the Temple in Luke 2 and the "director's cut" edition in The Infancy Gospel of Thomas.
- Another article from the Bible Odyssey project on the differences between the Paul of Acts and the Paul of his letters.
- Mikael Parsons, Luke: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist. See ch. 1 on his treatment of Luke and ancient conventions of writing.
In Preparation for our Final Class Session
1) Remember: part 2 of the writing assignment has been reduced to 1 page single spaced or 2 pages double-spaced summary regarding the historical Jesus.
2) Synoptic Write-up: Please see instructions above for the expectations on this assignment.
3) Prepare for Exam
4) Extra Credit: 10 points added to final exam if:
- you read a selection from one of the non-canonical gospels (see link to the right) AND
- write a paragraph summary sharing your perception of the selection and your observations of how it relates to the canonical gospels
Resources to Prepare for Final Class Session
- Transfiguration Pericope from Throckmorton. It is in .pdf format and you should be able to highlight the text.
- Article by Steve Kraftchick on the Historical Jesus (may be used to clarify other readings).
- Link to selections from non-canonical gospels
- Study guide for Exam: Google Doc; .pdf version
Guidelines/Hints for Preparing for Exam:
- start with the "Hook Verses" for each gospel and try to identify elements in each that get at some of the distinctive features of each gospel
- review the study guide (links above); concepts and key words/figures were discussed in lecture and in course readings
- try to associate noteworthy characteristics (like the "Travel Narrative") with their respective composition
- remember: this is a MULTIPLE CHOICE exam.
There will be 2 or more hours in the morning session of Feb. 28 devoted to the final exam.
Agenda: Day 3 (Feb. 28, 2015)
9:00–9:30ish: Review for Exam
1:40ish–3:15: Class Session #1
- Questing for the Historical Jesus
3:15–3:30: Snack Break
3:30–5:00: Class Session #2
- Jesus in the Imagination of the Early Church
- Preaching and Teaching the Gospels
- Wrapping up
Presentations and Lecture Notes
Preaching the Gospels Google Presentation; .pdf version
Preaching and Teaching the Gospels Articles:
- Carson, Preaching the Gospels
- Ourisman, Tell Me the Stories of Jesus
- Weston, Preaching the Gospel from the Gospels
- Notes from in-cass discussion