"'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
— Jesus, Matthew 22:37-40
The first four books of the New Testament, chronicling the life of one Jesus Christ. Their name means "Good News"; the idea behind the Gospels is that they exist as "good news" to be spread by Christians to the world. As a result, each of the four has a slightly different tone and target.Matthew - Compares Old Testament scripture with Jesus’ deeds, to appeal to Jews.Mark - Estimated to be the oldest Gospel, written for the Romans, and portrays Jesus as the miracle worker.Luke - Written for Gentiles, and emphasizes Jesus as a Nice Guy who preached kindness and charity. Has the most in-depth look into his origin story and contains the most parables.John - The most introspective Gospel, written for Christians.Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the "Synoptic Gospels" because they tell largely the same story (from Greek syn=together, opsis=seeing). It's generally accepted in modern Biblical scholarship that Mark was written first, and that Matthew and Lukenote Or whoever wrote those books, but let's not get into ''that'' fight copied off of Mark and another source that no longer exists (usually called "Q", from German "Quelle", meaning "Source") containing Jesus' sayings and parables. John is substantially different from the other three, and may have been included in the canon primarily because of its depth of theology despite the fact that it contradicts the Synoptics on the details of Jesus' life at certain points. Again, we must emphasize: the Gospels are supposed to be "good news", not "modern historiography"; the contradictions aren't meaningful in the face of the overall message.
Tropes found in the Gospels:
Actually, I Am Him: Jesus did this from time to time. One example comes from John chapter 9, after curing a man of his blindness:
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and worshiped him.
A Taste of the Lash: Pilate has Jesus scourged in an attempt to placate the mob that's calling for Jesus' crucifixion. They still want him dead.
Author Appeal: Luke, who was a doctor, notes several medical details in his accounts that the other authors glossed over, such as that the girl who Jesus brought back from the dead died of a high fever, or that Christ was sweating blood at Gethsemane.
Ex-tax collector Matthew focuses on money. Example: He was the only one to say how much Judas was paid for his betrayal.
Berserk Button: Pharisees and teachers of the law were this to Jesus. Conversely, Jesus hanging out with prostitutes, tax collectors, and gentiles (Hellenes and Romans) was this to the pharisees and teachers of the law.
When Jesus tells his hometown that He is the messiah prophesied by Isaiah? Great, the people are excited that the messiah is a hometown boy. But when Jesus says He is going to reach out to gentiles? Not so great!
Bittersweet Ending: Jesus is gone but the apostles vow to spread his message to the rest of the world.
Bigger Than Jesus: Ironically enough, Jesus himself invokes this trope, mentioning that he's "greater than Solomon" and "greater than Jonah" in a third-person kind of way.
Book Ends: At the start of Mark the heavens are ripped apart allowing the Spirit to descend and enter Jesus. When Jesus dies at the end and the spirit leaves him the tapestry in the temple is also ripped apart. The same words are used in both places in the original Greek.
Child Prodigy: Jesus is depicting discussing the Torah with much older and better learned men when he's only a preteen.
Demonic Possession: Jesus encounters several possessed people and successfully exorcises the demons every time. This occurs frequently enough that it's lumped together with all the other diseases and mental disorders Jesus cures. One notable example: the truly unfortunate man possessed by one thousand demons that called themselves "Legion". Jesus, being well, Jesus, cured the man and spared the demons when they begged for mercy, who he then let flee into a herd of pigs.
Depending on the Writer: Jesus' character tends to vary quite a bit depending on who's describing him. The Jesus of Matthew is notably more short-tempered; the Jesus of John more mystical.
Driven to Suicide: Judas Iscariot, after feeling so remorseful of betraying the Messiah that he returned the money he was given for it to the high priests.
The Dutiful Son: First appeared as the counterpart to the title character in Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus makes the point that he's not really morally superior to his wayward brother.
Enemies Equals Greatness: Some verses such as Matthew 5:11-12 and John 15:18-20 deal with this as far as following Jesus is concerned. The former assures that being hated and persecuted leads to great rewards, whereas the latter assures that it's better to have enemies than to be God's enemy.
Evil Gloating: The Romans mock Jesus heavily while torturing him before finally killing him, asking him if he's really the King of the Jews. They even put up a sign above his head on the cross reading Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews). note And that's where that INRI thing comes from in paintings.
Famous Last Words: Even these are in "Rashomon"-Style: all of the Gospels have Jesus saying different things on the cross. (It's possible he said all of them, just at different times, or maybe it's just artistic license.)
These are actually traditionally sermonized as the "Seven Last Sayings of Christ" around Easter.
Flat Earth Atheist: Not quite atheists per se, but some people denied Jesus' divinity even immediately after watching Him perform real-life miracles.
Insane Troll Logic: After seeing Jesus cast out demons, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus points out that if that were the case, it would make Satan's kingdom A House Divided.
Friend to All Children: Jesus. He got quite annoyed with His disciples when they tried to stop children from "bothering" Him, explaining that little children had exemplary faith in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Getting Volunteered was apparently pretty common back then—a Roman soldier could force a Jewish peasant to carry his pack for him for up to a mile. Jesus was referring to this practice when He said, "If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles."
Healing Hands: Jesus spent a great deal of time healing sick people.
Holier Than Thou: Jesus thoroughly berated the religious leaders of his time for being like this. Needless to say, they didn't take it well.
I Kiss Your Foot: The sinful woman in the gospel of Luke, who pays a visit to Jesus during a supper he has with a Pharisee, cries tears on His feet, wipes them clean with her hair, kisses the feet, and anoints them with oil. Jesus Himself goes to the trouble of washing His disciples' feet in the gospel of John, showing the example of humility that they must follow.
Implausible Deniability: After Jesus' Resurrection, the Jewish leaders bribed the guards to say they were asleep and the disciples stole His body. However, this alibi leaves the little questions of why they were asleep at their post, and how they knew exactly what was going on while they were asleep!
Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Jesus is not only the son of God, but the only man who has never sinned a single time in his life. It is important to notice that while he never sinned, theologians and religious folk will point out that he faced every temptation known to man, but rejected all of them without using his godly powers, in order to set an example for mankind.
Informed Judaism: Jesus and most of his followers were Jews, obviously, since Christianity didn't formally exist yet. They're not really portrayed as doing a whole lot of religiously Jewish stuff though besides celebrating Passover and questioning whether it's okay to eat non-kosher foods (possibly to depict them as But Not Too Foreign for non-Jewish audiences).
The "Shema" is said. More proof to their Judaism.
Intimidating Revenue Service: Whenever Jesus needs an example of a profession that everyone will instantly recognize as corrupt and sinful, he mentions... Prostitutes? Pharisees? Torturers?... Tax collectors.Justified, since in Ancient Rome tax collectors were pretty universally reviled for extorting money from their countrymen while being on the take. Also averted, in that some tax collectors such as Matthew and Zacchaeus are shown to be redeemed.
Jacob Marley Warning: Invoked in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. After his death, the Rich Man in hell asks Abraham to send a warning to his surviving brothers so they can repent and avoid his fate. Abraham subverts the trope, however, explaining that if they didn't believe Moses and the prophets, they wouldn't believe a ghostly messenger either.
Jesus Was Way Cool: Zig-Zagged, perhaps on account of being an Unbuilt Trope. There are many moments when people regard Jesus as totally awesome, but just as many moments when He's abandoned, misunderstood, hated, and finally executed— sometimes by the very same people who thought He was so cool a few chapters before.
Jews Love to Argue: A large part of the action involves Jesus arguing with the Pharisees, or with His own disciples, about the right interpretation of the Laws of Moses. (Note that Jesus Himself was Jewish too, of course.)
Jumped at the Call: This happened with most of the apostles. Jesus would simply say "Follow me," and they would drop everything they were doing and follow Him.
Justified: At the time, the Rabbi would choose their successor this way between their pupils, all of which should know the full Law by then (becoming a Rabbi being the dream job back then). The apostles weren't educated from their childhood but instead had become workers, so it was kind of a really unexpected honor for them.
Many Spirits Inside of One: Jesus exorcises a demon-possessed man who identifies himself as "Legion, because we are many." If taken at face value that would indicate about a thousand demons. The demons are cast into a herd of swine, which they destroy.
Mary Magdalene, in one of the few definite statements about her in Scripture, is said to have have had seven demons cast out of her.
Among the Apostles, Simon Zelotes means Simon the Zealot (the Zealots were a particular religious sect at that time) and Judas Iscariot is a variation of Sicarius. The Sicarii were either another sect like the Zealots, or a different name for the same sect (opinions differ).
Meaningful Rename: Jesus gives Simon the new name "Peter", which means "rock", signifying that he will be the rock on which Jesus will build his church, according to Catholic interpretations.
After His resurrection, Jesus tells the women to "Go tell his disciples and Peter." This is an inversion of the trope, however, since Jesus is saying "Despite his Friendship Denial, make sure that Peter knows he's still included."
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: John's gospel says that Satan entered into Judas to make him betray Jesus, leading to Jesus' death— which directly brought about the forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection, and the founding of the Christian faith.
Given the political climate of the time, lots of people were named Jesus, hence him always being referred to as "Jesus of Nazareth". Tradition states that Barabbas, the man released in Jesus' place, was also named Jesus note Barabbas, or Bar Abba in Aramaic, is actually his last name, meaning "son of the Father".
Among Jesus' disciples, there were two men named James, two named Judas, and two named Simon (one had to be nicknamed "Peter"). On one occasion, John has to introduce dialogue by saying, "Judas, not Iscariot, said..."
"Judas who is not called Iscariot" is now known as St. Jude, patron of lost causes, because so few people would pray to him on account of the similarity.
The Book of John, written by John the Apostle, opens up by introducing another John, John the Baptist.
Also, depending how you count, there may be as many as four women (and definitely at least two) named Mary, apart from Jesus' Mother.
There are even two Herods— Herod the Great and Herod Antipas.
Positive Discrimination: The Samaritans are depicted in a positive light several times, most famously in the story of the Good Samaritan. This is because they were Acceptable Ethnic Targets at the time and there was a lot of mutual enmity between them and the Jews.
Quote-to-Quote Combat: In Luke 4 Satan tries to tempt Jesus into throwing himself from the highest point in the temple and quotes from the Psalms to suggest that God will prevent Jesus from falling to his death. Jesus shoots back with "you shall not tempt the Lord your God" from the book of Deuteronomy.
Rasputinian Death: Crucifixion is a horrible way to die, no doubt about it. It could take days before the victim died of blood loss, dehydration and exposure to the elements, which is why the victims' legs were broken on the day after to speed up the process note this would put pressure on their lungs and make them suffocate, basically a Mercy Kill. When they go to do this to Jesus, though, they find he's already dead. (Note that he was also tortured severely for hours before being put on the cross and forced to carry the big heavy thing all the way to the execution site.)
"Rashomon"-Style: There's a reason this page isn't called "The One Gospel." The four different versions of the story mostly serve to complement and expand on each other, though a few points are harder to reconcile. For example, the Synoptic Gospels do not all include the same events, nor do they record them in the same sequence. Among scholars, this is known as the "Harmony of the Gospels"; you can even buy editions of The Bible that lay out the four accounts side by side for easy comparison.
Jesus: How terrible it will be for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead people's bones and every kind of impurity.
Stealing from the Till: One of Judas' character flaws, brought up when he is among one of the disciples to complain when Mary the sister of Martha anoints Jesus, saying that the perfume could've been sold and the proceeds used to feed the poor...
"He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it."
Jesus also used the Parable of the Shrewd Manager (in which an unethical housekeeper commits accounting fraud to ensure that he has friends once he's fired from his current job) to illustrate that if godless heathens are willing to go to such lengths for temporary gains, then the disciples should be all the more wise when it comes to eternal glory.
Historical context actually suggests that the steward is not actually committing fraud, but that he is removing his commission from his master's debtors payments. He had previously committed dishonest acts, but his behavior in the parable itself is clean.
Stealth Hi/Bye: Post resurrection, Jesus makes sudden appearances even in locked rooms, and then disappears just as suddenly.
Streaking: Possibly an Ur Example in Mark, where a young man wearing a sheet loses it when a guard tries to capture him and runs away in the buff.
Take a Third Option: (Matthew 22) Are we answerable to God or to earthly powers such as the Romans? note Many Jews were pretty much sick of the Romans by this point and had no desire to pay taxes to support Roman idolatry and hedonistic living. The last thing they would have wanted to hear was a command to pay their taxes. If Christ had said that this was unnecessary, though, well... (John 7-8) Will Jesus say that a woman caught in the act of adultery should be stoned or not? note If Christ had said that she shouldn't be stoned, the Pharisees would have accused Him of violating the laws of Moses. If He had said that she should, He would likely have been turned over to the Romans, who didn't allow the Jews to perform their own executions.
Time Travel Tense Trouble: In the Gospel of John, Jesus claims divinity by saying, "Before Abraham was, I am!" It seems that omnipresence involves just as much verb confusion as time travel does. (Jesus is also giving a Continuity Nod to the name of God revealed to Moses in the Old Testament, "I Am that I Am.")
Total Eclipse of the Plot: According to Mark, Luke and Matthew, a period of darkness occurred during Jesus' crucifixion, lasting from noon to 3 o'clock in the afternoon. It couldn't have been a solar eclipse — not only because it lasted three hours, but also because the crucifixion took place on the first day of Passover, which is held at full moon when solar eclipses cannot occur. Nevertheless, the evangelists probably imagined it as a total solar eclipse.
Ungrateful Bastards: Jesus healed ten lepers, and only one of them, a Samaritan, bothered to thank Him.
Jesus also told the parable of a man who, after having his debts forgiven by his master, went after a fellow servant who owed him a mere pittance in comparison.
Urban Legend: Discussed TropeIn-Universe. Rumors were flying all over the place about Jesus' true identity, and only Peter (via divine intervention) gets it right; in the Gospel of John the author dismisses a rumor that "the disciple Jesus loved" wouldn't die—no, Jesus only said "if I wanted him to live until I came, what's that to you?"
With Us or Against Us: Jesus states in passages such as Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23 that if you're not for Him, then you're against Him. In other words, neutrality in Him doesn't exist, and the person will either accept Him as savior or not.