Lately I have been reading two very useful introductions to the Gospels. The first is Francis Moloney’s The Living Voice of the Gospels (Hendrickson/Baker, 2007). This is a very easy-to-read, accessible introduction that focuses on the literary and theological messages of the Gospels. After each introductory chapter on the four Gospels, he gives a commentary-like reading of a key passage (Mark 1; Matthew 1; Luke 22-24; John 6). There is a strong push for a narrative-critical reading, theological interpretation, and reader-response sort of hermeneutics which de-emphasizes historical questions and issues (though he shies away from technical jargon). While I thoroughly enjoyed his comments, I was sometimes left with the question – is this all just symbolism? Are the Gospels historical at all? I understand Moloney’s point in focusing on the “living voice,” but perhaps he has neglected the historical elements to a fault. In any case, complemented by other books, I found his approach very rewarding.
Another useful textbook is Mark Allan Powell’s Fortress Introduction to the Gospels (1998). Strikingly different in approach from Moloney, Powell concentrates on source critical and redaction-critical insights, presuming Markan priority. If you want to get acquainted with the history of the study of the Gospels and higher criticism (which I found very interesting), this is an excellent study with some very insightful charts and diagrams. I was particularly impressed with the brief, but cogent chapter on “Other Gospels” – a subject that many students are curious about.