Kyle Keefer: The Gospel Writers Were Artists

Kyle Keefer, The New Testament as Literature: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2008), 19.

A reader who approaches the gospels looking for a factual, objective report of Jesus will inevitably be frustrated. The gospel writers resemble artists and/or polemicists more than journalists because they select material, style of presentation, structure, and terminology, all in the service of portraying a Jesus that they consider decisive. In the same way that we describe varieties of art works – music, painting, film – as compositions, the aesthetic implications of composing aptly describe the work of the gospel writers. They are compositors in the sense that they are gathering material that they have received, but they are also composing – placing and organizing – this material to suit their finished product. In other words, it does not make sense to separate ancient biography from literature. Neither Plutarch nor Suetonius, roughly contemporaries of the gospel writers, assumes that they are simply giving the reader a biographical subject “as they really were,” whatever that phrase might mean.

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