Jesus and the Gospels

Course No. 6240
Professor Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University
Share This Course
4.5 out of 5
82 Reviews
76% of reviewers would recommend this product
Course No. 6240
Streaming Included Free

Course Overview

The figure of Jesus has tantalized both Christians and non-Christians who have sought definitive answers to questions about his words, his acts, and even his very existence. For most of the last 2,000 years, the search for those answers has begun with the Gospels, but the Gospels themselves raise puzzling questions about both Jesus and the religious movement within which these narratives were produced. They also provide sometimes bewilderingly diverse images of Jesus.

What accounts for this great diversity in the images of Jesus that have emerged, or in the approaches taken to understanding the story of his death and resurrection? Is it possible to shape a single picture from the various accounts of his life given us by these Gospels? Can we really know who Jesus was?

What are the 'Gospels' and What Can We Learn from Them?

Jesus and the Gospels is a far-ranging course. It examines not only the canonical Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John familiar to us from the New Testament, but also the many other, apocryphal narratives and literary works that have contributed to our perceptions of Jesus, Mary, and Christianity. All of these works are encompassed by the word "Gospel."

Professor Luke Timothy Johnson attempts to show us the human Jesus underlying the many portraits we have. He approaches the Gospels and our perceptions of Jesus from a different perspective than the popular quest for the "historical Jesus." (The Teaching Company course The Historical Jesus offers a fascinating look at this approach.)

Professor Johnson asserts that the portrait of Jesus addressed by such an approach, legitimate and compelling though such an approach may be, leads to questions that are virtually "impossible to answer satisfactorily" through proper historical methods.

"It is, after all, as literature that the Gospels influenced history. And it is through literature that present-day readers can continue to encounter Jesus," he says.

Veteran Teaching Company Professor Johnson has designed this course to examine the Gospels as literary productions. The lectures seek to encounter not the Jesus behind those compositions, but the Jesus found within them.

"This is precisely the Jesus who has shaped Western culture, that has shaped the Christian religion," he says.

"It has never been the historical Jesus who has served as the motivating force for anything, except during his lifetime, but rather the Jesus who is inscribed in these Gospels."

Professor Johnson, who spent nine years as a Benedictine monk, is one of his field's most distinguished and famous scholars. He is the author of 20 books and several hundred articles and reviews, and has been repeatedly honored for his teaching skills. At Emory University, he has twice received the "On Eagle's Wings Excellence in Teaching" award.

In these lectures, presented with passion, a scholar's attention to nuance, and a delightful sense of humor, he considers not only what is being said, but how it is being said. And because these narratives were born of an oral tradition, he often reads aloud to best convey their full richness and original meanings.

Professor Johnson uses a vivid example of a family's recollections of a grandmother's life and advice to illustrate how such oral traditions evolve and the role they would have played in creating memories of Jesus. His example makes it clear how such a process would have been at work, allowing a common understanding of Jesus to grow among his first followers and subsequent converts.

An Understanding of Jesus Born from a Complex World

That shared understanding of Jesus developed within a complex world, and for several lectures before he turns to the Gospels themselves, Professor Johnson introduces you to that world. He reveals a volatile mixture of Mediterranean culture, Greek ideals and realities, Roman governance, and the religion of Israel from which Christianity began.

By the time he turns to the actual Gospels, Professor Johnson has laid a thorough foundation for understanding not only the different issues of faith (in fact, aspects of Jewish Torah) each Gospel is emphasizing, but also the real-world logistics of spreading that faith during the early Christian era.

For example, you learn, in his discussion about Luke–Acts, about the enormous significance of accepting Gentiles into the new faith without requiring circumcision or the observance of Torah. Professor Johnson points out how easy it is to forget, after more than 2,000 years of looking at Jesus from a Christian perspective, that the followers of this new faith saw themselves as observant Jews deeply committed to Torah, and that such a gesture was a profoundly radical act.

You also learn about the many issues that created for many Jews a "cognitive dissonance," even as they accepted Jesus as the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.

His manner in facing death, which the Gospels reported as fearful, didn't conform to Greek ideas about the heroes who might ascend to God's presence. His very life, including non-observance of the Sabbath, seemed to be a repudiation of the obligations of Torah as they were understood by observant Jews. Most of all, there was the manner of his death, for Deuteronomy had marked as "cursed" anyone who "hangs upon a tree," and Jesus had been crucified as a criminal.

The first Christians resolved this dissonance by reinterpreting their symbolic world, and Professor Johnson describes how this reinterpretation is already taking place in the letters of Paul.

Explore the Synoptic Gospels

Throughout his lectures, Professor Johnson moves in and out of close analyses of key lines of text, balancing his readings and explanations of the significance of language and terminology with overviews about important issues with which scholars have long grappled. These include both the authorship of the Gospels and what is known as the "synoptic problem," untangling the literary relationship among the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke.

Those three works are known collectively as the Synoptic Gospels (from "synopsis"), since they cover essentially the same events in Jesus's life, with the Gospel of John considered to stand apart. You learn how issues of language, material, and sequence have tantalized scholars for years. And you see how "Q," a hypothetical source of written sayings, has been accepted by a majority of today's scholars as satisfying some of their questions, at least for now.

Meet A Jesus You Might Never Have Encountered

But it is the figure addressed by the Gospels who dominates these lectures, sometimes in ways less familiar than the portrayals of Jesus we most often encounter.

The four canonical Gospels don't address Jesus's younger years, for example. Professor Johnson shows how apocryphal Gospels such as the Proevangelium Jacobi were written to fill in such gaps, as they did so many others, offering up details ignored by the canon. In one of these, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, you meet a childhood Jesus who would be all too familiar to a modern-day parent, becoming a teenager both wondrous and perverse before evolving into the Jesus represented to us today.

Similarly, most of today's doctrine about Mary, especially in Roman Catholicism, does not come from the canonical gospels. Its source is the apocryphal Proevangelium of James, which has also influenced Christianity's views on sexuality and the body and the images of Mary and Joseph most common in Western art. In fact, even the Nativity images you see every Christmas come not from the canon, but from apocrypha.

Professor Johnson also includes several lectures on Gnosticism, a form of Christianity that arose in the 2nd century, proclaiming the faith as a religion of enlightenment through the saving of knowledge.

Jesus and the Gospels concludes with a look at how Jesus is understood today, not only by Christians as they worship, but also by theologians, historians, and artists. Dr. Johnson points out how many of these latter-day perspectives, including films like The Passion of the Christ, can rightly be considered as apocrypha in their own right.

Hide Full Description
36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Not "The Historical Jesus"?
    This opening lecture shows how history is and is not helpful in learning about Jesus and why a comparative literary analysis of the Gospels is at once a more responsible and satisfying way to engage this fascinating yet illusive person. x
  • 2
    The Starting Point—The Resurrection Experience
    Virtually everything we know about Jesus comes from Christian sources. This lecture takes up the starting point for engaging Jesus: the distinctive Christian understanding of the resurrection. x
  • 3
    The Matrix—Symbolic World of Greek and Jew
    This lecture introduces the complex 1st-century mixture from which Jesus and the Gospels arose, including Mediterranean culture, Greek ideals and realities, Roman governance, and the religion of Israel. x
  • 4
    Parallels—Stories of Greek and Jewish Heroes
    This lecture provides a context for approaching the distinctive character of the Christian Gospels through a survey of stories told about other significant figures in Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures. x
  • 5
    The Context—Jesus in the Memory of the Church
    The Gospels are compositions from the communal memory of the earliest Christian movement. This lecture sketches the first stages of that movement and the social settings within which Jesus was remembered. x
  • 6
    Earliest Stages—Paul and the Oral Tradition
    Over a period of some 40 years, the memory of Jesus was shaped by the continuing experience of believers in communities. We consider the basic patterns of memory found in the oral tradition. x
  • 7
    Why Compose Gospels?
    The writings of Gospels represented a real shift in the understanding of "good news." The answer to the question "Why compose Gospels?" leads to a consideration of the nature of the Gospels. x
  • 8
    The Synoptic Problem and Its Solutions
    Three of the canonical Gospels are alike and different in striking and puzzling ways. This lecture exposes what is known as the synoptic problem and offers solutions, including a discussion of the hypothetical source of sayings known as "Q." x
  • 9
    Gospel of Mark—Apocalyptic and Irony
    This lecture deals with the literary aspects of Mark, particularly the creation of dramatic tension, the apocalyptic outlook of the Gospel, and the ironic way the evangelist turns apocalyptic. x
  • 10
    Gospel of Mark—Good News in Mystery
    This lecture examines the powerful and paradoxical Jesus created by Mark. For humans, it is a mystery that both attracts and repels. x
  • 11
    Gospel of Mark—Teacher and Disciples
    The drama of discipleship in Mark's narrative instructs readers concerning their allegiance to Jesus. Readers are to imitate him, not his first followers. x
  • 12
    Gospel of Mark—Passion and Death
    Mark has prepared his readers for Jesus' suffering and death by a series of prophetic statements, but the importance of Jesus' death—and the way he died—is shown by the amount of attention Mark gives to Jesus' last days. x
  • 13
    Gospel of Matthew—Synagogue Down the Street
    Because Matthew uses Mark's Gospel in constructing his own version of the good news, it is possible to deduce with considerable confidence his own interests, which point to a context of competition and conversation with Pharisaic Judaism. x
  • 14
    Gospel of Matthew—The Messiah of Israel
    Matthew's concern with proving that Jesus is the Messiah spoken of by the prophets is shown by the genealogy with which his Gospel opens, his infancy account, and his use of explicit scriptural citations. x
  • 15
    Gospel of Matthew—Jesus and Torah
    Matthew's Gospel not only shows that Jesus' life fulfills messianic expectations as expressed in Torah, but also shows Jesus as the definitive interpreter and very personification of Torah. x
  • 16
    Gospel of Matthew—Teacher and Lord
    Matthew's careful redaction of Mark's use of "Teacher" and "Lord" shows that Jesus is understood as the risen Lord who teaches the church. No other Gospel gives such explicit attention to the instruction of the church as such. x
  • 17
    Luke-Acts—The Prophetic Gospel
    The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles form a single literary composition in two volumes that can properly be called "Luke's Gospel." x
  • 18
    Gospel of Luke—God’s Prophet
    In Luke's Gospel, Jesus is presented as a prophet, delivering a radical message of reversal of human norms in the name of God's visitation. x
  • 19
    Gospel of Luke—The Prophet and the People
    This lecture examines Luke's portrayal of Jesus' call for a real conversion, along with the distinctive passion account that shifts blame toward Jewish leaders and away from ordinary Jewish people. x
  • 20
    Acts of the Apostles—The Prophet's Movement
    Jesus' followers prove themselves to be prophetic and radical successors, including extending Jesus' understanding of God's people by an even more radical inclusion: accepting the Gentiles into the people without circumcision and the obligation to observe the Law. x
  • 21
    Gospel of John—Context of Conflict
    Asking about the relationship between the Synoptics and the very different Gospel of John leads to the consideration of John's style, structure, and symbolism, and the discovery of something far more complex than the simple and straightforward account of an eyewitness. x
  • 22
    Gospel of John—Jesus as the Man from Heaven
    John's powerful portrait of Jesus combines a constant insistence on his full humanity, while also portraying him as the revelation of God. x
  • 23
    Gospel of John—Jesus as Obedient Son
    John's Gospel has sometimes been considered the most anti-Semitic New Testament composition. This lecture considers the complex ways it engages the world of Judaism. x
  • 24
    Gospel of John—Witness to the Truth
    In John's Gospel, the most extensive teaching of his followers takes place after the close of Jesus' public ministry. John portrays Jesus' death and resurrection in terms of the "hour" of his "being lifted up" and "glorified." x
  • 25
    In and Out—Canonical and Apocryphal Gospels
    This lecture sketches the historical process of canonization in early Christianity, touches on some of the implications of the distinction between canonical and apocryphal, and provides an overview of the apocryphal Gospels. x
  • 26
    Young Jesus—The Infancy Gospel of James
    The Protevangelium of James is an excellent example of how apocryphal Gospels sought to fill the gaps in the story of Jesus and is the source of many of the artistic conventions connected to the figures of Joseph and Mary. x
  • 27
    Young Jesus—The Infancy Gospel of Thomas
    The Infancy Gospel of Thomas illustrates how, in some Christian circles, convictions concerning the divinity of Christ tended to obscure his full humanity. x
  • 28
    Jewish Christian Narrative Gospels
    Here Dr. Johnson examines what is known about the narratives ascribed to followers of Jesus who also remained faithful to the Jewish heritage of Torah observance. x
  • 29
    Fragments of Narrative Gospels—Gospel of Peter
    This lecture looks at a Gospel mentioned in ancient canonical lists; nothing more was known about it until the late 19th century with the discovery of a single manuscript containing a portion of it. x
  • 30
    New Revelations—Gnostic Witnesses
    This lecture introduces Gnosticism and discusses two of the "Gospels" that were known before the discovery of the Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi, the Gospel of Bartholomew and the Pistis Sophia. x
  • 31
    Jesus in Word—The Coptic Gospel of Thomas
    Even more than the Gospel of Peter, the Coptic composition discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1947 has generated interest and controversy, especially concerning the figure of the historical Jesus. x
  • 32
    Jesus in Word—Two Gnostic Gospels
    This lecture looks at two compositions from the Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi, one showing Jesus in dialogue with some of his followers and the other containing a commotion-causing portrayal of Jesus and Mary. x
  • 33
    The Gnostic Good News—The Gospel of Truth
    One of the most impressive and original compositions in the Nag Hammadi library is a composition identified in antiquity as The Gospel of Truth, a theological reflection on the meaning of Jesus. x
  • 34
    The Gnostic Good News—The Gospel of Philip
    This lecture examines another "Gospel" that bears little resemblance to the narrative versions found in the New Testament, a strange and beautiful set of reflections on the life of the Gnostic Christian. x
  • 35
    Jesus in and Through the Gospels
    This lecture addresses some of the implications of the Gospels, wonders at the mysterious figure who inspired them, and marvels at the movement that encompassed so many impressions of him. x
  • 36
    Learning Jesus in Past and Present
    This final lecture takes up some of the ways Jesus continues to excite the imagination, both through the work of historians, theologians, and artists, and through the liturgical reading, art, and music of Christians at worship. x

Lecture Titles

Clone Content from Your Professor tab

What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 36 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
Instant Audio Includes:
  • Download 36 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE audio streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 160-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

Enjoy This Course On-the-Go with Our Mobile Apps!*

  • App store App store iPhone + iPad
  • Google Play Google Play Android Devices
  • Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Kindle Fire Tablet + Firephone
*Courses can be streamed from anywhere you have an internet connection. Standard carrier data rates may apply in areas that do not have wifi connections pursuant to your carrier contract.

Your professor

Luke Timothy Johnson

About Your Professor

Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University's Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Johnson earned a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from Yale University, as well as an M.A. in Religious Studies from Indiana University, an M.Div. in Theology from Saint Meinrad School of Theology, and a B.A. in Philosophy from Notre Dame Seminary in...
Learn More About This Professor
Also By This Professor


Jesus and the Gospels is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 84.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Need Much More Time I bought this program because I wanted to watch it at my leisure. Like many, if not most, people I'm extremely busy. This survey is too much too soon.
Date published: 2020-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Historically accurate. I grew up going to church, reading the Bible, and felt reasonably educated about the Gospels. Boy, did I have lots to learn. What I love about this series, is Professor Johnson is so knowledgeable of the times, an expert in reading the original gospels in Greek and if so very entertaining as well. He is a man you would just love to be able to sit down and pick his brain. It is a series I will be watching over and over again.
Date published: 2020-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Erudition ... With Feeling I’ve always thought it a treat to watch/listen to Dr Luke Timothy Johnson as he “teaches … not preaches” his religious courses. This course packs a lot of information that will satisfy the intellectual curiosity of the non-believer as well as the believer. There are many great and thoughtful reviews here already, and I need not offer further detail. (See the review of “Challenger,” who has penned many outstanding reviews for different courses herein.) If I may offer a suggestion regarding “Essential Reading” that really is crucial for one's understanding of the related lectures (after the lectures on canonical Gospels): Some of the texts indicated can be easily found online via search engine. Those that I was unable to find online, I found in a 2014 book by TGC’s Prof Bart D. Ehrman (and Zlatko Plese), “The Other Gospels,” (Amazon, available in Kindle with active Table Of Contents, as well as hard copy) – Each work is accompanied by an introduction. I highly recommend this book to you as an adjunct to this course, as well as for its additional texts. All in all, this course has been, for me, a great learning experience.
Date published: 2020-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and interesting! A forceful, information-packed survey of what can and cannot be known of the Jesus of history. First class!
Date published: 2020-05-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Point of View of an Apologetic This is a course that takes historical facts here and there, interprets them with disregard to context, logic and common sense when they conflict with his believes. Had he stated at the beginning that the material is presented from the point of view of the faithful I would have understood his position and not assumed that his course was a scholarly work. The course deserves zero stars but since one star is reserved for the worst, which is Islam by professor Esposito, two stars have to make it.
Date published: 2020-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful surprise I have studied the NT for nearly 50 years. I thought this course was probably going to be a little boring to me; I purchased it for a grandchild. To my surprise I found it not only brought up previously understood material, but introduced me to new lines of study and understanding. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2019-11-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting! I just started this course. So far, it is fascinating!
Date published: 2019-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So you want to learn about the Gospels? I previously "attended" the course on the New Testament by Professor Ehrman which I thoroughly enjoyed. Professor Johnson's course was equally as enjoyable but from quite a different perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Johnson's teaching style (in contrast to another reviewer's less than laudatory comments). He was engaging and at times even a bit humorous. I never lost interest even though it did take some time to actually get to the Gospels. Some may feel that too much time was devoted to the Gnostic Gospels but having taken the course on Lost Christianity, it seemed just about right. Professor Johnson disclosed his Roman Catholic "bias" and I thought it actually added to what he had to share. I also appreciated that right from the get go we were told this was not another course searching for the historical Jesus. This was a review of the Gospels from a literary standpoint. All in all, I enthusiastically recommend this course to anyone interested in the subject. Time very well spent.
Date published: 2019-04-17
  • y_2020, m_12, d_3, h_16
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.12
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_5, tr_79
  • loc_en_US, sid_6240, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.0
  • CLOUD, getContent, 14.23ms

Questions & Answers

Customers Who Bought This Course Also Bought