For somebody like Paul, it can perhaps be justified by the fact that the synoptics weren’t written yet, but that doesn’t explain why James and Peter barely reference any of the events or teachings in the synoptics. Isn’t that unusual, especially since Jesus did so many miraculous healings and crazy signs?

I know that some of the epistles mention synoptic events or teachings, but it is very rare and not exhaustive, which one would not expect for rabbinic students that learnt Jesus’ message, irrespective of whether the gospels weren’t written yet or not.

That then leads to the follow up question: If Jesus teachings are rarely quoted in the epistles, then why didn't He teach things of more practical sustenance, given that the whole point of many of the epistles was advice?

I know this is a few questions mushed in one and perhaps too broad, but I can't seem to find an answer anywhere else that can logically + theologically explain it.

So can someone please try to explain the logical reasoning for why all the epistles, not even just Paul’s, seem to show little connection to the gospels, especially given the radical events & teachings of Jesus found in these four books?

  • 1
    related, but not a "why" question: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/25729/…
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 13:12
  • Compare this with how much time your physics teacher spent talking about the various events in Isaac Newton's life. Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 13:59
  • If the answer to this question is important to you, what are the implications of the lack that you see? In other words, we are told in scripture to only entertain useful discussions, and I'm asking you, since 4 gospels already cover fairly well what you want covered, why would we expect others to keep laying the foundation again and not just reference and build-upon what was there? (What is your practical need?) Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 16:05
  • The Apostle Paul does quote from one of the gospels and calls it "scripture" in 1 Timothy 5:18, which is a quote from Luke 10:7. All the scriptures have their own purpose, and all are radical. Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 23:11

5 Answers 5


If there is a narrow view of what "the gospel" is, then that could explain the confusion in the question. There are four gospel accounts, written between the early 50s through till around 85. Paul was martyred in 67/68, so the gospel account of John was never even available to him, and if Luke was written in the 70s, neither was it. However, a gospel account is not the same as "the gospel of Christ". Let me explain.

None of the gospel accounts are biographies of Jesus Christ, but they all have particular emphases on the life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. They were written for different readers for different purposes. When combined they give a suitably fulsome word-picture about the Christ which confirm who he is and what he said and taught. It was the apostle Paul, however, who wrote in great detail the extent of what encompasses "the gospel of Christ". (See 1 Corinthians 9:12; 2 Corinthians 4:3-5; 2 Thessalonians 1:8.)

After his miraculous conversion, Paul had the gospel about Christ explained to him from Ananias and other Christians in Damascus. About three years passed (mainly spent in Arabia, whose borders extended to the environs of Damascus), then he was taken to meet the apostles in Jerusalem, who were initially afraid of him. But Barnabas introduced him. Again, once Paul got going preaching the gospel to Jews, his life was threatened, so effective was his ability to show from the Hebrew scriptures that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 9:1-30 & Galatians 1:6-24).

His Judaic theological training (second to none) meant he concentrated on quoting from the Hebrew scriptures. His habit was to "preach first to the Jew, then the Gentile" (until the Jews excluded him). See Acts 13:14. That is why his quotations were from the Hebrew scriptures - to prove that Jesus is the Christ. It is also necessary for Gentiles to learn from the Hebrew scriptures all that pertains to the gospel, from the first prophecy about salvation in Genesis 3:15 right through to the last prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6.

By the time Paul's letters began to circulate, some perversions of the gospel had begun to creep into congregations, corrupting the true gospel message. The need of the hour was not to repeat what Matthew, Mark and Luke had already written in their gospel accounts, but to show the application to the newly forming congregations. Indeed, for the last five years of Paul's life, he was prevented from freely moving around the congregations and to preach. He had been arrested in Jerusalem, detained for two years in Caeserea, then sent in chains to Rome. That journey took about two years, then he was held under house-arrest for around two more years. It was about 35 years since Christ's resurrection. A new generation was arising, only the remaining elders remembering having seen Jesus after the flesh. Paul's writing was to counter the false gospels particularly taking root in those congregations he had established. That is why they are theological letters, dealing with the practical outworkings of living the gospel of Christ, based on accurate knowledge of the deity of the risen Christ; it's his resurrection that proves him to be the Son of God, and guarantees the resurrection of every Christian. Paul has to argue from the Hebrew scriptures why Christians must not let themselves be bound again (with legalism); how their freedom in Christ means righteous living, not licentiousness. That sort of thing.

The writings of James and Peter are much shorter than Paul's. James and Peter were 'ordinary' 'unlettered' men whose letters were on specific matters that really did not call for quotes from the gospel accounts. But they do make a few references to Jesus' words and events. See 1 Peter 2:4-8 [a reference to events Jesus spoke of in Mat.21:41-44] 2 Peter 1:12-18; 3:2 & 18; James 1:27 [a reference to Mat.25:36, Jesus' own words] & 3:12 [a reference to Jesus' words in Mat.3:17] & 5:12 [ditto Mat.5:34-37] also Jude vss.17 & 21.

Bear in mind, too, that a letter is not a book. When its frame of reference is very limited, it will be quite short. It simply is not reasonable to alight on them with a call for "justification" as to why they hardly mentioned what you assume to be what they ought to have written about. Yet they DO deal with Jesus' words, and gospel events - just not in a direct word-for-word quotation that you seem to be looking for. All their writings are imbued with this zeal for Jesus' words and belief in gospel events.

  • 2
    Perhaps it should be stressed that Peter doesn't need to directly quote Matthew, Mark, or Luke. He was there himself, so can simply relate what he remembers.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Jul 14, 2022 at 11:44

Most churches, and most New Testament scholars, believe that the stories of the life of Jesus and his teachings were first passed down as oral traditions. The Gospel of the life and work of Jesus was spread by evangelists (including the Apostles) who planted churches, teaching this oral tradition to the next generation who would pass it on in turn. The four Gospels were written towards the end of the 1st century when the first generation of Christians were passing away, so that their recollections could be preserved not just in the oral tradition, but in writing.

The Epistles are not primarily evangelistic tracts, but were generally written to pre-established churches. This means that the authors could assume that those churches already knew the oral tradition, so that they could write about their concerns and impart teachings not directly and explicitly expressed in that oral tradition. Remember also what topics the Apostles wrote about in their letters, as that indicates what the disputes of the times were: the nature of the Gospel, the relationship of the Church to Israel, ecclesiology, spiritual gifts, eschatology, and so on. So while we may today face questions of whether Jesus truly did perform miracles, evidently that was not a pressing question in the first century church, and the Apostles did not need to write about his miracles in their letters. They had other much more urgent topics they needed to address instead.


A simple answer is that the epistles are simply that: letters, originally written to specific churches to tackle specific problems. A lot of background understanding between the letter writer and the church was assumed, which must have included what Jesus did and taught. Since Jesus's teachings and historical records of his miracles were not at issue, it's natural they were not mentioned, or in some cases received only passing mention.

Another reason is that the apostles themselves didn't expect their letters to have a canonical significance that the church would later assign to them: expanding their function far more beyond the specific problems they addressed. It's true that Paul's letter to the Romans was consciously written with more universal concern and more posterity in mind, but we should not ignore that at the core the letter was still occasional in purpose in spite of carrying apostolic authority. A related reason is simply economics: paper was very expensive. The Epistle to the Romans was estimated to cost around USD 2275 so St. Paul had to be selective and stayed on focus.

In contrast, the purpose behind the writings of the Gospels was very different: authoritative narratives for the benefit of the second generation believers and beyond telling who Jesus was (God's Son) and why He came to earth (to inaugurate God's Kingdom on earth and to start His Church). This is because the apostles and other eyewitnesses of Jesus were getting older and would soon pass away. Second reason was to protect the right understanding of Jesus against false narratives down to this day (!) such as Jesus as a failed self-proclaimed messiah, Jesus as a mere prophet concerned with teaching righteousness, Jesus as compassionate miracle healer bringing hope to the downtrodden, etc.

To address your subquestion

If Jesus teachings are rarely quoted in the epistles, then why didn't He teach things of more practical sustenance, given that the whole point of many of the epistles was advice?

we have to remember that Jesus taught a LOT more and did a LOT more than what were preserved in the Gospels (John 21:25). Again, for reason of economy, the gospel writers must be selective. Still, the Gospels DID contain practical teachings: The Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel according to Matthew and The Farewell Discourse in the Gospel according to John have become very important elements for Christian ethics in the past 2000 years. We also must not forget that there was an oral tradition preserving Jesus's teachings that were passed on from the apostles before the canon was formed in the next few centuries. Most Christians at the time could not read, so they must have relied on their pastors. Still, I agree with you that the Gospel writers could have included more explicit ethical instructions directly from Jesus on some hot button topics given the notoriety of debates among Christians until today.

To restate your question then:

Why did God, who inspired the Gospel writers as well as the canon formation, did not include more of Jesus's practical teachings in the canon?

The theological reason given by Christians is that the NT canon of 27 books (plus the apostolic interpretive key, the rule of faith) is deemed enough to become the principles of Christian ethics beyond the much more important purpose for the canon to become the basis of Christian theology. At any rate, the same God who has inspired the NT writers and who has led the canon formation has left us with His Holy Spirit to guide both the church (His body) and individual believers in applying the Biblical teaching to act Christianly among the diverse nations and cultures of the world until Jesus comes again.


St. Paul references what are arguably the most important Gospel events:

  • Incarnation

Born of a woman

  • Presentation

Born under the law

  • Institution of the Eucharist

This is my Body, this is my Blood

  • Crucifixion

we preach Christ crucified

  • Resurrection

If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is in vain

  • Appearances after death

He appeared to the twelve ... and last of all to me.

Paul was the most influential preacher and model of all future Christian preachers. The model of preaching, relating the gospel message to encouraging good conduct and bolstering faith in Jesus is probably what you'd hear in any Church on any given Sunday.

So, if you think of the readings you might hear at a church service like the way the Bible is composed, you'd hear a few things about Jesus in the gospels (they don't need to be told from memory any more - and they really can't) and then you'd hear preaching about the message - not necessarily quoting the events (and this is Paul or the other apostles)


One possible reason that Paul and Peter did not include more Gospel details in their letters is that they were apostolically responsible for overseeing the creation of two of the Gospels. Thus they could always point their disciples to those Gospels for study and meditation.

Peter and John Mark (author of Mark) were close friends, as shown in Acts. Many scholars believe that Peter was the priomary source for Mark's gospel.

Paul and Luke (author of Luke) traveled together on some of Paul's missionary journeys. When Paul speaks in Romans 2:16 about "my gospel", some scholars think that Paul is referring to the Gospel of Luke. Luke also made contact with Mark, so got some of his material from him.

Some of these connections are explored in this article:


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