Tag Archives: New Testament

How Open To Radically Fresh Ideas Are New Testament Scholars Really?

6th August: corrected the first quote: the first line should have read 

I had supposed that scholars were dedicated to the pursuit of truth, wherever that might lead, and that new ideas would always be welcome. 

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Even some of the more conservative of New Testament scholars boast how they belong to a guild that prides itself on craving exploration for new insights, that is committed to testing the old ideas following wherever the truth may lead. Emeritus Professor Larry Hurtado about a year ago posted one such claim that as stridently endorsed by fellow faithful Christian soldiers/scholars James McGrath and Jim West:

The field of NT/Christian Origins, for example, is now more diverse, with more approaches, more perspectives, than ever; and probably most scholars dream of being able to correct or refute some established view, or successfully lodge some new view, or publish some hitherto unknown or insufficiently noted datum. 

Innocent bystanders might raise an eyebrow at such claims emanating from a field that looks for all the world as if it is dominated by persons with a conflict of interest to such a pursuit. The vast majority are clearly committed in some fashion to the faith their scholarship seeks to underpin (or test).

I responded critically to the main theme of Larry’s disingenuously self-serving remarks because they sounded to me so contrary to what I have known researchers in “real” say about their fields. Do theologians really believe their own propaganda aimed at the masses of unwashed outsiders?

Fortunately not all do.

I have just had the pleasure of reading the memoirs of Michael Goulder, Five Stones and a Sling: Memoirs of a Biblical Scholar. Goulder is most noted for keeping the torch burning for the Austin Farrer thesis — the thesis that Luke knew and used Matthew and that there was no Q document behind either of these gospels — until Mark Goodacre came along to stand at his side and take up the cause.

There’s much in Goulder’s memoirs to write about but here let’s just see what this renowned scholar had to say about his own scholarly peers and their willingness to take up new ideas.

He explains the disappointment he experienced when scholars first dismissed his carefully reasoned arguments without any attempt to engage seriously with them: read more »

How the New Testament Works

David Trobisch reminds us in The First Edition of the New Testament that the books of the New Testament canon have been arranged in way that conveys its own message to readers. So editors responsible for the arrangement of the books send a message to readers. This is part of what Trobisch explains is “the editorial concept”.

So we open the New Testament and the first book we see is the Gospel of Matthew. Now the author’s name is nowhere found in the book itself. Someone has added the title and author heading to it. So who is this Matthew? We read the book and see Matthew is one of the Twelve Disciples. So the reader is led to understand that this first book is written by one of the Twelve who were with Jesus.

Next comes the Gospel of Mark, and the reader is left curious as to Mark’s identity. But the editor has collated other books and perhaps even added the odd “incidental” line that leads the reader to learn who he is, too. I’ll return to this later.

Then we read The Gospel of Luke. This work begins with a claim that leads readers to understand many others had attempted to write gospels before this one. The reader has already turned the pages of two of these. Now this Gospel is tied by the preambles to the Book of Acts that soon follows. Now Acts concludes suddenly with an imprisoned Paul preaching in Rome and waiting trial. The reader was expecting to read about the death of Paul. Moreover, some passages in Acts are written in the first person. It is natural, then, for the reader to conclude that Acts was written prior to the death of Paul.

And if Acts was written in the life-time of Paul, then so must have been the Gospel of Luke that precedes Acts. Yet the reader has seen that Luke follows earlier gospels still, such as Matthew and Mark. It is natural, then, for the reader to view these first three gospels as all being composed very early and during the life-time of Paul and other apostles.

read more »

Why did they put contradictory gospels together in the New Testament?

trobisch1The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and the Gospel of John contradict each other on the date of the crucifixion of Jesus. The Synoptics tell us Jesus ate the Passover sacrificial meal with his disciples the evening before he died; the Gospel of John that Jesus was crucified at the same time of the Passover sacrifice. In the Gospel of John there is no description of a ritual meal — “take, eat, this is my body, etc” — on the eve of Jesus’ arrest.

Whoever was responsible for collecting those gospels with such a blatant contradiction and placing them side by side in a holy canon? What on earth were they thinking?

David Trobisch in The First Edition of the New Testament offers an intriguing explanation. His explanation is in fact only one small point in a small volume that raises several major new ways of understanding the evidence for the origins of the New Testament canon. The back cover blurb sums it up:

The First Edition of the New Testament is a groundbreaking book that argues that the New Testament is not the product of a centuries-long process of development. Its history, David Trobisch finds, is the history of a book — an all Greek Christian bible — published as early as the second century C.E. and intended by its editors to be read as a whole. Trobisch claims that this bible achieved wide circulation and formed the basis of all surviving manuscripts of the New Testament. 

In the first part of his book Trobisch argues that certain characteristics of the surviving manuscript trail are best explained if they all originated from a carefully edited collection. That is, from a canonical New Testament very similar to the New Testament with which we are familiar today. The traditional understanding has been that the New Testament canon was a relatively late development and many of the surviving manuscripts originated solo long before the various works were collated into the NT. Trobisch points to features in common across most of these manuscripts that indicate otherwise —

  • English: Folio 115 recto of the codex with the...
    English: Folio 115 recto of the codex with the beginning of the Gospel of John (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    the common use of the nomina sacra,

  • the adaptation for a codex form of publication,
  • the uniform order and number of writings in the manuscript tradition;
  • the common formulation of the titles,
  • and the evidence that the collection was known as the “New Testament” from the beginning.

The second part of his book is another fascinating exploration, this time of the “editorial concept” of the New Testament. Trobisch alerts us to many features many of us who have grown up with the New Testament know all too well but have tended to take for granted. I am thinking of those many little cross-references and “coincidental” positions of the books in relation to one another. The NT is collated like a little code book in some ways. There is just enough information placed strategically to allow us to discern a real historic unity behind all of the books and to see who has written what and what the historical relationship of each of the authors was with one another. (I’m talking about a naive popular reading of the NT.) So towards the end of 2 Peter and 2 Timothy we find Peter and Paul writing in ways that lead us to think all their earlier differences (e.g. in Galatians) were patched over and they ended up as spiritually affectionate brothers. There are enough references here and there to Mark to alert us to identifying the apparent author of the second gospel as the companion of Peter. Similarly Luke is given enough “incidental” references for us to identify him as a beloved physician and companion of Paul and author of Luke-Acts. In a codex form it would have been a thrill to explore back and forth to see how all of the works do relate to one another, how their authors’ histories with one another can be discerned, and above all, how all the various ideas and teachings were really from the one spirit and pointed to real underlying harmony in the church from its beginnings.

As we have seen, Trobisch believes the best explanation for the details of the manuscript evidence is that the New Testament as we know it was collated much earlier than generally thought. He places around the middle/latter half of the second century.

Now we come to our little detail of the contradiction over the date of the crucifixion.

read more »

Oral Tradition Is Unnecessary to Explain the Gospels

This post concludes Thomas Brodie’s critique of the role oral tradition has played in Biblical studies, especially with respect to accounting for the Gospel narratives about Jesus. It is taken from chapter 6 of The Birthing the New Testament: The Intertextual Development of the New Testament Writings.

Even if a hypothesis is unclear in its foundation, and even if in practice there are serious difficulties with getting it to work, perhaps in some way it is still the only apparent response to a real need. It is appropriate therefore to ask whether the hypothesis of oral tradition is necessary to New Testament studies. (p. 60)

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.Reasons for seeing Oral Tradition as Necessary. .Thomas Brodie’s responses.
“Gospel texts follow the rhythms of oral speech.” “Oral rhythms do not require reliance on oral tradition.
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“Oral rhythms are a quality of both oral communication and much writing, especially ancient writing.”
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“Someone sitting silently at a computer can compose oral rhythms with a view to being heard by the ear.”
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“The variations between the gospels correspond to the variations that occur in oral communication.” This looks plausible at first glance.
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But look closely at the differences between the gospels and one begins to see a very deliberate variation governed by a quite different and coherent theological strategy.
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Differences that arise through oral transmission alone are not like this; they are accidental and haphazard.
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Oral tradition fills the gap between the historical Jesus and the Gospels. “Oral tradition may or may not assure more historicity.
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“From a historical point of view, the ideal is that the evangelist is an eye-witness to the gospel events – thus needing no tradition whatever – or else speaks directly to such a witness.
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Interjecting an unpredictable chain of communication into a period of less than a lifetime has the effect not of promoting claims to historicity, but of dissipating them.”
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Besides, it is “not appropriate” (I would say it is “invalid”) that “a desire for a particular type of historical conclusion should predetermine the idea of how the gospels were composed.”
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If the idea of oral tradition is to stand, it must stand on its own inherent merits.
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“Oral tradition is embedded in the fabric of New Testament studies, in the prevailing paradigm, and, for the moment at least, there is no alternative paradigm to replace it.” “It is true that oral tradition has been embedded in the fabric of NT studies and is central to the prevailing paradigm. But that situation is changing rapidly.
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“The literary approach, despite its teething problems – its occasional obscurity, pretentiousness, and narrowness – is not an esoteric game.
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“Rather, the literary approach provides the context which, when developed, offers the best prospect for future research. It restores the writings to their role as literature, even sacred literature, and it does not exclude theology and historical investigation. On the contrary, it sets history and theology on a firmer footing.”
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The Gospels portray scenes of people speaking, often in the open air. It is a scene of oral simplicity.“Such simplicity corresponds with the simplicity suggested by oral tradition.” True, the gospels do depict scenes of simplicity far removed, most often, from the world of writing.
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“However, the fact that a scene is rustic need not mean that the artist who portrays it is rustic. A film, for instance, may portray rural life but be produced in the countryside by city dwellers using highly technical methods. Likewise, the simplicity portrayed in the gospels need not indicate the way the gospels were composed.”
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(The quotations are from pages 60 and 61 of The Birthing of the New Testament. Formatting is my own.) read more »

Oral Tradition in NT Studies is Unworkable

Thomas Brodie has shown that the theory that the Gospel narratives began as oral traditions is not founded on valid logical argument. Nonetheless, he recognizes that an idea that rests on little more than mere presumption “may still be useful as a working hypothesis.” So he proceeds to explore whether the theory of oral tradition works in New Testament studies. What follows is from Brodie’s chapter 6 of The Birthing the New Testament — all posts archived here.

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First, here’s a chart of the arguments attempting to explain how oral tradition worked — as covered by Brodie. He covers many scholars in quick succession and it can be a bit numbing for someone wanting a quick blog read and who is unfamiliar with the topic to take it all in very easily. I use the many colourful images that have arise in the various attempts to explain how oral tradition is supposed to work:

read more »

Oral Tradition Behind Gospels and OT: Unfounded, Unworkable and Unnecessary

As signalled in a comment on my recent post on the single authorship of Genesis to 2 Kings, I have decided it best to back-track a little before continuing that series and posting a little on how oral tradition came to be a ruling paradigm among Biblical scholars and why an increasing number of scholars, especially those who study the Gospels, are coming to question whether it has any place at all in the creation of the biblical stories. This post begins to cover Thomas L. Brodie’s chapter, “Oral Tradition: Wonderfully Plausible but Radically Problematic”, in The Birthing of the New Testament: The Intertextual Development of New Testament Writings.

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There was a time when the gospels were seen as the product of writing — of competent authors using some ancient form of pen and writing materials. It was presumed that the evangelists [i.e. gospel authors] had either been present at many of the events they described (like Matthew and John) or had received their information from authoritative sources (Mark from Peter, and Luke perhaps partly from Paul.) (p. 51, The Birthing of the New Testament, by Thomas L. Brodie)

Given that the time-gap between the events narrated and the gospels was at most fifty or sixty years, it was understood that eye-witness testimony in some form (oral or written) was available to even the latest of evangelists.

Hermann Gunkel

Enter Oral Tradition as the New Paradigm

Julius Wellhausen in 1876 made mention of oral tradition but it was Hermann Gunkel in his 1901 commentary on Genesis who

used it as a model and who thus introduced it to the center of biblical studies.

Gunkel went against the perceptions of those who had gone before by failing to see Genesis as artistic literature. Further, Gunkel implied that his model “could be applied to the life of Jesus.” (Brodie, p. 51)

In effect, he gave the twentieth century a new paradigm.

The Gospels become UNliterary

Soon the new idea of “form criticism” began to appear in New Testament studies. Wellhausen went beyond Gunkel’s implication and secured a central role for oral tradition in Jesus studies with his series of commentaries and introductions to the gospels 1905-1911. Bultmann summarized Wellhausen’s contribution:

The oldest tradition consisted almost entirely of small fragments . . . and did not present a continuous story of . . . Jesus. When these fragments were collected they were connected so as to form a continuous narrative. . . [Wellhausen] showed not only that they evangelists’ narratives . . . were secondary, but also that oral tradition was steadily producing more and more new sayings of Jesus. (Bultmann, 1926, quoted on p. 51 Birthing of the New Testament)

K. L. Schmidt introduced the model of the Gospel of Mark that has been widely embraced among scholars up to today and that has been discussed in recent posts reviewing Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity:

In 1919 he used Gunkel’s model to distinguish between Mark’s framework, which Schmidt reckoned came from the evangelist, and Mark’s various units, which Schmidt assigned to oral tradition . . . read more »

Did Jesus exist for minimalist and Jesus Process member Philip Davies?

Philip Davies

Emeritus Professor Philip Davies has not been able to “resist making a contribution to the recent spate of exchanges between scholars about the existence of Jesus” in an opinion piece titled Did Jesus Exist? on The Bible and Interpretation website. It is a question that he says “has always been lurking within New Testament scholarship generally”, though the occasion of his essay appears to be the recent set of exchanges over the views of Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey and Thomas L. Thompson on that website along with some thoughts on the recently released ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’.

(Since Davies was also announced as a member of The Jesus Process (c) (TJP), it is encouraging to see someone from that august body addressing the tactic of the gutter rhetoric that we have endured recently from other TJP members Joseph Hoffmann, Maurice Casey and Stephanie Fisher. It would be nice to hope that Davies’ article can mark a turn for the better from that quarter at least.)

Philip Davies is (in)famous for his 1992 publication In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’ (partly outlined on vridar.info) that is reputed to have brought “minimalist” arguments on the Old Testament to a wider scholarly (and public) awareness. In Did Jesus Exist? Davies says he has “often thought how a ‘minimalist’ approach might transfer to the New Testament, and in particular the ‘historical Jesus’”, and infers that the collection of articles in ‘Is This Not the Carpenter?’ is an appropriate way to open the question.

(I don’t think it is all that difficult to apply a “minimalist” approach to the New Testament: it’s a simple matter of approaching the data with the same logical validity and consistency — the avoidance of circularity [and circularity of method is confessed by several historical Jesus/NT scholars] in particular. The hard part is in acknowledging the circularity given our cultural conditioning.)

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NT studies “not a normal case”, ad hominem rhetoric, and hope

He points out that what is uncontroversial in any other field of ancient history runs into trouble when suggested in the field of New Testament studies (my emphasis): read more »

Mark Goodacre, Criteriology, and the “Appearance” of Science

In his latest podcast Mark Goodacre turns his attention to the problem of applying criteria selectively after the fact:

. . . I think that there can then be problems when one tries to make historical Jesus criteria like multiple attestation, like the criterion of embarrassment, do too much. When you take them beyond the introductory student level, into mainstream work on the historical Jesus — because after all, historians don’t work with a great big tool bag of criteria.  Historians don’t, you know, hold up a tradition and say, “OK, let’s kind of dig into the bag and see if we can find a criterion that satisfies this tradition.”  

I just don’t think that’s how historians work a lot of the time.  History’s much more complex than that.  It’s more nuanced; it’s more detailed.  We’re looking at things in all sorts of different ways.  And so I think we have to be a little bit careful about the way that we react to these kinds of criteria.  They can be terribly wooden.  They can be excuses often not to think very clearly.

And worst of all, sometimes what historians of the New Testament — sometimes what historical Jesus scholars do — is they’ll take a tradition they rather like the look of subjectively and then they’ll find some criteria that they can use to make it sound like it’s more plausibly historical.  So the criteria are often applied after the fact, rather than before the fact.  So there’s sort of the appearance of science, the appearance of a sort of scientific validity to what they’re doing.  It’s often just an appearance.

This kind of honest discussion is a breath of fresh air.  For years now, Vridar has been the lonely voice in the wilderness, warning that the historical Jesus scholars were using their criteria to do too much. Besides trying to use criteria that were designed to assign relative probabilities to determine absolute historicity, we’ve noted here countless times, again and again, that HJ scholars appear to apply the criteria selectively, after the fact in order to prove what they wish to be true.

Kudos to Dr. Goodacre. Maybe the next time we have another friendly tussle with Dr. McGrath, Mark will come to our defense — you know, on the side of right — instead of coming to the aid of a beleaguered fellow member of the guild who has once again gotten in over his head.

2 Peters, 1 Jude and 2 Revelations: the first New Testament (Couchoud)

Apocalypse of Peter

Continuing the series archived at Couchoud: The Creation of Christ – – – (Couchoud argues that our “editor” – Clement? – compiled 28 books, one more than our current 27 that make up our New Testament and this post concludes the section where Couchoud discusses the origin of our New Testament books.)

The perfect balance of the New Testament still stood in need of a counterweight. Just as the tale of Peter counter-balanced that of Paul in Acts, so the letters of Paul required as counterpoise letters from the Twelve.  There were already in existence a letter by James and three by John.  To make up seven, our editor produced two letters by Peter and one by Jude, John’s brother. (p. 305)

I don’t know if Couchoud here means to suggest “the editor” wrote these epistles himself. I find it difficult to accept the two letters attributed to Peter are by the same hand given what I have come to understand of their strikingly different styles, but let’s leave that question aside for now and cover what Couchoud’s views were as published in English 1939.

1 Peter

This epistle is said to have been a warrant for the Gospel of Mark. (Maybe, but some have suggested the name of Mark for the gospel was taken from this epistle. If it were a warrant for Mark one might be led to call to mind the unusual character of that Gospel. Its reputation had been tinged with “heretical” associations.) In the epistle Peter calls Mark “my son” and is supposed to be in his company in Rome, biblically called “Babylon”. The inference this leads to is that Mark wrote of the life and death of Jesus as learned from the eyewitness Peter. This coheres with Justin’s own naming of the Gospel “Recollections of Peter” in his Dialogue, section 106.

The letter is “a homily addressed to baptized heathen of Asia Minor at the time of a persecution.” Its teachings can be seen to be of the same category as those addressed in the earlier discussions by Couchoud – typical of Clement and anti-Marcionite . . . read more »

Historian Demolishes Historical Jesus – Gospel Paradigm

Hopi: Image via Wikipedia

Sorry about the sensationalist headline but, being a mortal, I couldn’t resist it this time. (I know one swallow doth not a summer make, but humour me till the rest turn up.)

I wish to thank Dr James McGrath, Clarence Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, for drawing my attention to a case study published by oral historian Jan Vansina in Oral Tradition as History (1985). (Note I used italics instead of quotation marks for the title this time so that there can be no doubt that I have actually read the book.) {for the uninitiated the link is to Dr McGrath’s post in which he points out that my earlier use of quotation marks for the title of the book is a “suspicious” indicator I had not read it}

Most students and many interested lay readers of New Testament scholarship know that there are two things that are generally accepted in the guild:

  1. the first gospel was composed roughly around 40 years after the death of Jesus
  2. the first gospel is more about a “Jesus of faith” than an historical Jesus since it is so riddled with mythological embellishments

In this post I show that a renowned oral historian publishes a case study that demonstrates the unlikelihood that mythological embellishments could possibly have been added to an “oral report” within 40 years of the event.

So what might the research of oral historians contribute to this critical NT and HJ discussion?

Keep in mind that an axiom of the historical Jesus scholarly guild is that the first Gospel — usually taken to be that of Mark, though some say Matthew, but for our purposes no matter which — is not to be taken as a straight historical record of the words and deeds of Jesus. It is filled, we are told (as if we needed to be reminded when we read of walking on water, talking to Being in heaven, predictions that the central character will descend from heaven in cataclysmic judgment, etc) with mythological embellishments. That is the very reason why, we are told, historical Jesus scholars cannot work like other historians but must assume the role of “detectives” and come up with additional criteria to convince the sceptics. read more »

Paul’s Letter to the Romans – the creation of the canonical edition according to Couchoud

English: page with text of Epistle to the Roma...
Page with text of Epistle to the Romans 1:1-7: Image via Wikipedia

I continue here the series covering Paul Louis Couchoud’s argument for the creation of the canonical New Testament literature from the 1939 English translation of his The Creation of Christ: An Outline of the Beginnings of Christianity. The series is archived here — scroll to the bottom for the first posts where the overall purpose for which the literature is covered, along with when and why and why Couchoud suspects Clement of Rome as the editor (and author) responsible.

The guiding principle for the structure was Marcion’s “canon” that began with a Gospel and included ten letters of Paul.

Background: In brief, Marcion was a prominent leader of a form of Christianity that (at least until recently) has been generally believed to have rejected totally the Old Testament and taught that Jesus came down from heaven to preach about an Alien (unknown) God who was all love and higher than the Jewish God of the law and judgment. Marcion claimed Paul as his sole apostolic authority in opposition to the other apostles who never understood Christ’s message. Couchoud argues that a Roman church elder (he suspects Clement) attempted to unite the diverse Christianities represented by competing Gospels (such as Marcion’s Gospel, Matthew, John, Mark) bringing them all together through the themes expressed in Luke and Acts (his own creations, though Luke was largely a re-write of Marcion’s Gospel) except for the intolerable Marcionite views that had to be countered.

Couchoud has covered the creations and compilation of the Gospels and Acts, and now comes to the orthodox versions of the Pauline letters. Marcion had selected Galatians as the most appropriate for the introduction of Paul’s thought; “Clement”(?) preferred Romans as the one most potentially adaptable as a frame of reference for the “correct” reading of Paul’s corpus. (Marcion had placed it fourth.) This would leave nothing more to do than revise a few details here and there in the other letters.

This editor enlarged Romans to twice its original size. (Couchoud mainly follows Harnack’s reconstruction of Marcion’s thought, Gospel and epistles. I have begun posting elsewhere Sebastian Moll’s revision of Harnack’s basic premise in his 2010 work and must post more on that in the future. I keep with Couchoud’s thoughts here.) Massive additions were: read more »

The Order of the New Testament Canon

George A. Kennedy makes some interesting observations about the order of the New Testament books that probably many Christians have at some time thought about. I suppose when a professor of classics publishes the same it gives us an assurance that our senses have not failed us.

The canon of the New Testament was established by Councils of the Church in late antiquity. Whether consciously determined or not, the order assigned to the books is interesting, for it is consistent with conventions of rhetoric as taught in the schools.

  1. First come the Gospels, which proclaim the message;
  2. then the narrative of Acts, which describes its reception;
  3. then the epistles, which may be viewed as arguing out interpretation of the message;
  4. and finally the Apocalypse, as a dramatic epilogue.

(p. 97, New Testament Interpretation Through Rhetorical Criticism, my formatting and numbering.)

It’s not quite true, of course. Acts can hardly be said to describe the reception of the message we read about in the Gospels, unless the message of the Gospels is confined to their final verses. And the epistles appear to be even less interested in arguing out the interpretation of anything we read in the Gospels. But the order of the books as bound in canonical black with gold edging does rhetorically convey the impression that it is quite true.

And then there is the order of the Gospels.

The order of the four Gospels probably reflects what the Church thought was the chronological order of their composition and is consistent with Eusebius’ reports on the subject. But it is also rhetorically effective in that

  1. Matthew, with his introductory genealogy, account of Jesus’ birth, and extended speeches, gives a comprehensive initial picture of Christianity and links it to the Old Testament;
  2. Mark, with his emphasis on what Jesus did, approximates a narration;
  3. Luke works out details and smoothes over problems to create a plausible whole;
  4. and John supplies a moving epilogue.

(p. 97 ditto)

Another reason for Luke to have broken up Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount

If the author of the Gospel of Luke knew Matthew’s gospel then how can one explain his decision to break up the aesthetic and noble unity of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount? There are responses to this question that do not persuade everyone. (The idea that Luke did not like long sermons runs into a problem when one reads long sermons and speeches in Acts.) If, however, we think of canonical Luke as an anti-Marcionite work (as discussed in recent posts on Tyson’s Marcion and Luke-Acts), then something about the Sermon on the Mount immediately stands out as a problem for an author writing a tract to trounce Marcionism.

Matthew 5:

20. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment:

27. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

31. It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife,

33. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all;

38. Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil:

43. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Even though many today read the whole tenor of Matthew’s gospel and the Sermon on the Mount as pro-Torah, the above pattern of sayings cannot help but at the very least suggest a pro-Marcionite teaching about Jesus and the Law. Marcionism taught that Jesus came from a higher god than the Creator god of the Jews, and that the law of that Creator god of Israel was deficient compared with the true teachings of the hitherto unknown god. read more »

Luke’s Infancy Narratives (Luke 1:5-2:52) as an integrated response to Marcionism

Broken links fixed — 25th November 2009

The Infancy Narratives of Luke, the first 2 chapters of this gospel, are well integrated into the larger narrative of the rest of Luke and Acts (Tannehill). But that does not preclude the possibility that they were added later to an original Luke, with the final redactor reworking that original gospel to thematically and theologically so that it formed a new whole, a new single work which included new material and added the Book of Acts as a second part to the narrative. Tyson fully embraces the narrative and thematic unity between the Infancy Narratives and the rest of the canonical form of the gospel, but he also sees reasons for believing that these opening chapters (along with other material and the Book of Acts) were added to a pre-canonical form of Luke in order to undermine the gospel of Marcion. Marcion’s gospel, he argues, was based on an “original Luke”. First Marcion edited this “original”, and then the canonical redactor did likewise, adding the first two chapters that we know today, in order to turn it into an anti-Marcionite document.

Tyson’s reasons (with reference to Streeter, Fitzmeyer, Raymond Brown, Cadbury, Conzelmann, Vincent Taylor, Knox, and his own earlier work on the Judaistic unity of the gospel), for believing that the Infancy Narratives of Luke were a later addition to the “original Luke” (which was also redacted) are summarized here:

Luke 3:1 is still an excellent beginning for a Gospel

  1. Luke 3:1-2 is a most suitable beginning. It is more precise in its chronological and geographical setting than Luke 1:5. Luke 3:1-2 places the drama on a world stage, without neglecting the parochial details. Carefully composed time setting details makes for an appropriate beginning of an historical or biographical account.
  2. Luke 1:5-2:52 appears to stand apart from everything else in the gospel.
  3. If Luke used Mark as a source it is not unlikely that he also began his gospel where Mark did.
  4. The genealogy in Luke 3:23-38 is appropriate only if Luke 3:1 is the beginning of the gospel. The genealogy only works (makes Jesus a son of David) if Joseph is his father, which conflicts with the birth narrative .
  5. John the Baptist is introduced in 3:1-2 as if for the first time.
  6. Requirements for apostleship in Acts 1:22 appear to designate the beginning of the gospel as the baptism of Jesus.
  7. Marcion’s gospel also began with the reference to the 15th year of Tiberius, although not to introduce John the Baptist but to designate the first earthly appearance of Jesus who came down to Capernaum (Luke 4:31).

Contrasts of narrative tone

  1. There is a profound sense that something new has begun at Luke 3:1. Luke 3:1 marks an abrupt change of time (from Herod to Tiberius) and marks a silent interval of some 18 years.
  2. Contrasting tones, including a contrast between infancy and adulthood, between miraculous births and wilderness preaching, between prophetic blessings and demonic temptations, between a time of good will and imprisonment.
  3. There is a sense of “abrupt change from a comfortable, idyllic, semimythical world to the cold cruel world of political social reality.” (p.94)

Different treatment of prominent characters

John the Baptist

Although there is some continuity between the treatment of John the Baptist in the Infancy Narrative and the remainder of the gospel (in both parts John is the preparer of the way for Jesus), there are also discontinuities.

There is a distinct contrast between the closeness of John the Baptist and Jesus in 1:5-2:52 and the distancing of these two in rest of gospel. This is in stark contrast to the first 2 chapters where the author has closely knit a narrative comparing the likenesses and differences between the two in a step by step sequence.

  1. Luke 16:16 can be read as assigning John to the age of Israel, and thus separated from age of Jesus.
  2. John and Jesus occupy different geographic areas after the Infancy Narratives.
  3. John completes his mission before the baptism of Jesus.
  4. John is imprisoned before Jesus begins his ministry.
  5. John does not even baptize Jesus in the main body of the gospel. The emphasis is on the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice from heaven, not the baptism of Jesus.

The Parents and Family of Jesus

  1. Joseph is mentioned five times in the Infancy Narratives but only twice thereafter.
  2. Mary is a lead character in the opening chapters. She is mentioned sixteen times in the Infancy Narratives but only once afterwards. In the early chapters she is treated with near veneration: she is given a great promise by the archangel Gabriel, and then the focus of Simeon’s dramatic prophecy, but then simply disappears except for one strange mention where Jesus rejects her in favour of his disciples.
  3. In that later mention the brothers of Jesus are also mentioned, which is again strange given there was no hint beforehand that they existed.
  4. The opening two chapters portray a very positive relationship between Jesus and his family, and a very positive picture of Jesus’ family itself. This contrasts sharply with the negative and rejectionist view of families in the remainder of the gospel. There, Jesus says he has come to create family division (12:53), that his disciples must hate their parents to follow him (14:26). Nor does this gospel, unlike those of Mark and Matthew, condemn the custom of Corban which allowed parents to be neglected if one made an offering to the Temple.
  5. The genealogy does not work given the Infancy Narrative opening of the gospel. The Infancy Narratives demand that the birth of Jesus be more miraculous than that of John. So to this end the focus has to be on Mary there more than Joseph. This early narrative also stresses Jesus being the Son of David. But later in the main body of the gospel the genealogy traces Jesus’ ancestry through Joseph. So the genealogy does not cohere with the Infancy Narrative and its portrayal of Jesus being the Son of David by Mary.

Linquistic Style Differences

  1. The Septuagintal style (and content) is found throughout Luke-Acts but is most prominent in the Infancy Narratives.
  2. Also the heavy Semitic flavour in the Infancy Narratives can be found throughout Luke-Acts, but is most pronounced in the first 2 chapters.
  3. The style of the Infancy Narratives serves to link Jesus to the Hebrew Scriptures. It transports the reader back to world of the ancient Hebrew writers and prophets.
  4. The characters’ lives are set against this background and governed by the values of the Hebrew Scriptures. The description of piety of the characters is idyllic.

Differences in Ideology

  1. The different ideologies of the family expressed in the Infancy Narratives and the body of the gospel has been discussed above.
  2. The treatment of Jews and Judaism in the Infancy Narratives is strikingly positive in contrast with rest of Luke-Acts.
  3. Chapters 1-2 function to connect Jesus and the Baptist to the world of the Hebrew prophets and ongoing Jewish piety and expectations. The tone is almost entirely one of hope and optimism.

The appropriateness of all the above as a reaction against Marcionism

  1. These opening chapters take the reader back 30 years before Jesus began his ministry, back to the reigns of Herod the Great and Caesar Augustus, as if to deny the Marcionite claim that Jesus’ first appearance was in the time of Tiberius (Luke 3:1).
  2. The Infancy Narratives emphasize that Jesus was born of a woman. He did not, as per Marcion, suddenly descend from heaven to Capernaum. For Marcion, a human birth for Jesus would have been degrading.
  3. Gabriel’s message seems chosen to offend Marcionites for its anatomical detail: to conceive in her womb, produce a son, leaping in her womb.
  4. Jesus is repeatedly called a baby or a child — as also is John.
  5. The language throughout emphasizes Jesus’ humanity, and proximity to family, and his similarities with John.
  6. Close relationship with John is conveyed through angelic announcements predicting their conception and births, the narratives about their births, their naming, the circumcision of both, the similar summary statements conclude narratives of both. Compare the author of Acts drawing similar narrative parallel units for the reader to compare Peter and Paul.
  7. The Infancy Narratives stress the relationship of Jesus to Israel, the prophetic anticipation of his coming, of Jesus being the fulfilment of Jewish expectation.
  8. The same chapters stress the relationship of Jesus to the Jewish people. He is of the House of David; David is Jesus’ father; he is born in City of David.
  9. The family of Jesus is faithful to Jewish practices — note the stories of the presentation of Jesus and Mary’s purification. They are pious Jews, observing Torah, supporting the Jerusalem Temple, practicing sacrifices, observing Jewish festivals.
  10. And Jesus incorporated these practices, being obedient to parents.
  11. Jesus’ Jewishness is especially stressed in the story of his circumcision. This vitally links him with Judaism. and would have been especially offensive to Marcionites.
  12. Pervasive influence of the Hebrew Scriptures is especially pronounced in the Infancy Narratives, in language, tone and content.
  13. Prominent use of Daniel and Malachi (Malachi is drawn on in the announcement of the birth of John; and in the appearances of Jesus in the Temple)
  14. Eight characters from the Hebrew bible are mentioned in the Infancy Narratives: Aaron, Abijah, Abraham, Asher, David, Elijah, Jacob, Moses.
  15. There are also references to the holy prophets predicting Jesus. (Marcion denied that Jesus was the fulfilment of the prophetic scriptures. He interpreted these literally, not allegorically, to refer to a conquering Messiah.)
  16. Quotations, allusions and models of narratives are closely based on the Septuagint Hebrew Scriptures (e.g. the presentation of Samuel was probably the model for the story of Jesus’ presentation at the Temple).

Tyson writes:

These considerations make it highly probable, in my judgment, that the Lukan birth narratives were added in reaction to the challenges of Marcionite Christianity.

If these two chapters were a part of the original Luke, it is very hard to understand why Marcion would have chosen such a gospel with such highly offensive chapters to edit to begin with. On the other hand,

it would be difficult to imagine a more directly anti-Marcionite narrative than what we have in Luke 1 :5- 2:52. (p.100)

Next — the postresurrection accounts (and the Preface) of Luke . . . .