Gospel Backgrounds

Table of Contents

Gospel Backgrounds is an analysis on the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Our goal is to better understand the cultural, historic, geographic, and linguistic backgrounds of the Gospel’s original characters as well as those for whom the original manuscripts were written.

There are 54 lessons in the series that presents the Gospel stories in roughly chronological order. The lessons are grouped into four units:

Challenges with any Bible Study

Our primary obstacle to a complete comprehension of the biblical texts is that we are separated by time an distance.


These events happened 2000 years ago, and often referenced events that happened a thousand years before that


Israel is around 7000 nautical miles away from the central United States. For the most part has a very different geography and climate than what many of us are used to in North America. It can be surprising how big of a role geography can have on the Gospel narratives.

To bridge these gaps, Gospel Backgrounds synthesizes several published messianic Jewish, cultural and geographic commentaries/Bible atlases, as well as extra biblical documents and archaeology findings.

Acts 17:11

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.^[Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.]

We will begin every study with Acts 17:11. This verse is paramount for two reasons:

  1. I, and every other commentator is human. I will of course make every attempt to be faithful and reliable, but we all have our biases, blind spots and faulty conclusions. For this I apologize in advance!
  2. The Biblical model is to “trust but verify” - it is up to you, the reader, to do your diligence and make sure facts and conclusions any commentator asserts are scriptural.

Key terms

Anachronism /Anachronistic Fallacy

Misappropriation of concepts and ideas in time

For example it is often assumed that Jesus, Paul and other gospel writers preached a new gentile religion.

Historically, the Jewish-Gentile split among followers of Jesus did not occur until the very late 1st century at the earliest, and more probably occurred gradually between the 2nd and 4th centuries. Until this time, what we know as “Christianity” was a sect within Judiasm.

Therefore, since the split had not occurred at the time Jesus was speaking or Paul was writing, there is no way could have have had a new Gentile religion in view.


Our set of beliefs we bring with us as we read the text


Inserting concepts INTO the Text

Generally, we want to avoid, or at list limit, eisegesis. Since we are humans, with thoughts, emotions, presuppositions, and biases, it is nearly impossible to completely eliminate eisegesis as we read the biblical texts.

The best course of action is to realize and accept when we are inserting things into the text that are not written and perform Acts 17:11 due diligence on the applicable concept/conclusion.


Extracting concepts FROM the Text

Exegesis is what we strive for. As with eisegesis, we must perform Acts 17:11 due diligence and make sure these concepts are consistent with the remainder of Scripture.

References used

At the conclusion of each lesson a list of works cited will be published. I encourage anyone to never take my word for it but validate what I say. In fact, Chuck Missler used to paraphrase Acts 17:11 as, “don’t believe a word I tell you. Do your own homework and check it out for yourself.”

I am specifically indebted to Daniel T. Lancaster whose five-volume “Chronicles of the Messiah” is the backbone for Gospel Backgrounds. The 54 lesson/episode format is from his series. Mr. Lancaster is the director of education for First Fruits of Zion, a messianic Jewish ministry.

Other sources are as follows:

  • Craig T. Keener - IVP Bible Backgrounds Commentary
  • William Schlegel - Satellite Bible Atlas and accompanying PDF study guide
  • Todd Bolen - Photo Companion to the Bible and Pictorial Library of Bible Lands
    • The photos used in the lesson videos come from Dr. Bolen’s collections
    • We are extremely grateful for his generous reuse policy!
  • For the passages from the Gospel of John, Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg - the Jewish Gospel of John
  • Barry J. Beitzel (ed) - Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels
  • David Stern - Jewish New Testament Commentary

Course developer

Chris Flanagan