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The Case for a Proto-Gospel

Recovering the Common Written Source Behind Mark and John


Gary Greenberg

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.

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15. The Proto-gospel Restored with Brief Commentary


15 The Proto-gospel Restored with Brief Commentary

At this point we have worked our way through the entire non-speech narrative of John’s Gospel. With just a few exceptions—primarily in parts of the second Baptist arc (John 3:22–31), the sojourn in Samaria (John 4:4–42), the adulterous woman (John 7:59–8:11), and various references to the Beloved Disciple—I have attempted to show that virtually every episode (but not necessarily every scene in each episode) in John’s non-speech narrative has a literary parallel in either Mark or Luke, and usually both, even though it is not always obvious what the parallel is.

Since our effort to reconstruct the proto-gospel narrative depends upon our ability to establish literary and sequential agreements between John and the synoptic gospels we can go no further at this time. It remains, therefore, to summarize what we have recovered and see what conclusions we can draw.

In this chapter, I will set out my proposed reconstruction of the proto-gospel. In the next chapter I will summarize the evidence and make the argument that John must have worked from Mark’s written source and not directly from Mark and/or Luke.

Overview of the Reconstructed Proto-gospel

Based on the analysis in the previous chapters, I have identified 339 scenes that I have assigned to the proto-gospel. Each has been assigned a PG (for proto-gospel) number, indicating my proposed sequential order. (See the listing below...

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