What genre of literature are the gospels?


Contemporary scholarly consensus views the gospel texts as Greco-Roman biography. However, there is still debate on this question. But it is an important question for if the gospel authors intended to write romantic fiction that would be different than if they chose to write historical biography.

According to my lecturer in New Testament Studies the gospels are “described as modified ancient biographies” (1). This is a position affirmed by Dunn who claims that “it has become clearer that the Gospels are in fact very similar in type to ancient biographies” (2). Scholar Graham Stanton agrees that “the gospels are now widely considered to be a sub-set of the broad ancient literary genre of biographies” (3). In an interview Professor Keener informs us of the general academy, “Most Gospel scholars today—not all, but most—see the Gospels as biographies” (4).

What has convinced most scholars of the genre of ancient biography is that the authors aimed to portray their subject’s character by narrating his words and deeds (5). Further, although we are well aware of our gospel authors theological agendas, they still decided to adopt Greco-Roman biographical conventions in order to explain the story of Jesus, and this suggests that they wished to convey what really happened (6). These several reasons are why most scholars hold that the “Gospels are a sub-set of the broad ancient literary genre of ‘lives,’ that is, biographies” (7).


1. Cornerstone Institute. New Testament Studies. 2015.

2. Dunn, J. 2003. Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making. p. 185.

3. Stanton, G. 2004. Jesus and Gospel. p. 192.

4. Keener, C. 2009. Will the Real Historical Jesus Please Stand Up? The Gospels as Sources for Historical Information about Jesus. Available.

5. Dunn, J. 2003. Ibid.

6. Keener, C. 2003. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. p. 13.

7. Stanton, G. 2004. Jesus and Gospel. p. 192.



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