Gospel Christology Paper
Overview. The Gospels have been described as “biographical sermons” of Jesus. They are biographies in that they aim to inform the audience (whether reading or hearing) about the life and legacy of the protagonist – Jesus of Nazareth. They are sermons in that they aim not merely to inform, but also to inspire, persuade, and elicit a response. Where multiple sources of the same presentation exist, inevitably those presentations are both alike and different. Think “remake.” For example, the movie, True Grit, was originally released in 1969 with John Wayne as “Rooster” Cogburn. It was remade in 2010 with Jeff Bridges as “Rooster” Cogburn.” The story is essentially the same in both movies, but the way the story is interpreted in the two movies, and the way the central character, “Rooster” Cogburn, is portrayed, is different. That is because the directors of the two different movies paint a portrait of the central character, “Rooster” Cogburn,” so that the audiences see him through the directors’, or story-tellers’, eyes. In much the same way, the four Gospel writers tell the same story of the central character of their biography, Jesus of Nazareth; but because we see Jesus through each Gospel writer’s eyes, we see a unique portrait of him in each of the four Gospels. In scholarly parlance, we call this “portrait” of Jesus the Gospel’s Christology; that is, its understanding, and presentation, of Jesus the Christ.
Research Methodology. Your task in this assignment is to experience the Gospel writer’s portrayal of Jesus as the story unfolds before you. In doing so, it is best to read the Gospel all the way through at one time, as you would a story or short novel, rather than randomly shuffling through the story looking for particular scenes or passages or verses, the very act of which will disrupt the flow of the story and cause you to miss the Gospel writer’s portrayal of Jesus. If you prefer, you can listen to the Gospel being read on DVD or MP3. In some ways, listening to the story being read to you is preferable to reading it yourself, because the Gospels were stories written more for the ear than the eye (remember, many in the ancient world could not read, and even if they could, books were too expensive to own a personal copy). As you read or listen to your Gospel, jot down your impressions of Jesus as his portrait emerges in the story. Try to isolate the single, central Christological image or role your Gospel writer uses to describe Jesus; for example, Son of Man, Son of God, Miracle Worker, Teacher, Suffering Servant, etc. While there may be multiple Christological images employed at times in your Gospel, your task is to identify and explore the single Christological image that, as the story unfolds before you, seems to you to dominate the writer’s view of Jesus. That is to say, your paper must explore one Christological image in your Gospel, not multiple images. For example, you can defend the view that Jesus in your Gospel is portrayed as Messiah, but not as Messiah and Son of God. Those are two different Christological titles. Moreover, there is no single “right answer” for which the Instructor is looking. You can choose any Christological title you can defend from the text of your Gospel, but you must defend your choice by appeal to the text of your assigned Gospel.
Once you have isolated the Christological portrait of Jesus your Gospel writer employs, test your hypothesis against what the experts have said by comparing your Christological interpretation with the scholarly commentaries on your Gospel. Important: Do not consult the commentaries until you have read your Gospel through and come to your own conclusions about its Christology.
Finally, write a paper explaining and defending your Christological interpretation of Jesus in your Gospel. The paper must have a thesis statement in which you clearly state for the reader which Christological image of Jesus you will defend in the paper. For example, “The thesis of my paper is that Mark portrays Jesus chiefly in terms of the Son of God.” Your paper must be no more than 15 pages in length, double-spaced, and must defend the view it espouses by means of extensive and direct interaction with the Gospel story itself. For example, don’t just say, “Mark portrays Jesus as a miracle worker.” Identify and discuss the particular stories and passages in Mark’s Gospel where this portrayal is emphasized, and point out to the reader why you think this is so. While you must work chiefly with the text of your assigned Gospel, you must also consult scholarly sources, especially academic commentaries on your Gospel, as “conversation partners” with whom to test your ideas.
Evaluation. Students will be assigned a Gospel on which to work based on the first letter of their last names: A-F (Matthew), G-L (Mark), M-R (Luke), S-Z (John). The paper must be in current Turabian format, having a properly-crafted thesis statement, and be consistent with the School of Divinity Writing Guide, including a title page, contents page, section headings, and bibliography page. All sources used must be documented with appropriate and properly-formatted footnotes and bibliography (see Turabian and/or the School of Divinity Writing Guide for help with the proper formatting of footnotes and bibliography). References to the text of your Gospel may be included in the body of the paper with parenthetical citations, but all other sources must have footnotes. No Internet sources of any kind, except sources accessed through the Jerry Falwell Library, may be used without the prior approval of the instructor. See the attached Grading Rubric for specific grading criteria.
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