L. Alexander, The Preface to Luke's Gospel, 1993; D. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World, 1983; R. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 2006, 240-89; K.E. Bailey, "Informal Controlled Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels," Asia Journal of Theology 5 (1991) 34-51; id., "Middle Eastern Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels," ExpT 106 (1995) 563-67; K. Berger, Formgeschichte des Neuen Testaments, 1984; R. Blank, Analyse und Kritik der formgeschichtlichen Arbeiten von Martin Dibelius und Rudolf Bultmann, 1981; R. Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 1963; id., "The New Aproach to the Synoptic Problem," JR 6 (1926) 337-62; S. Byrskog, Story as History—History as Story: The Gospel Tradition in the Context of Ancient Oral History, 2002; M. Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel, 1998; P. Davids, "The Gospel and Jewish Tradition: Twenty Years after Gerhardson," in R.T. France and D. Wenham, eds., Gospel Perspectives, vol. 1, 1980, 76-81; M. Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 1934; J.D.G Dunn, "Prophetic 'I'-Sayings and the Jesus Tradition: The Importance of Testing Prophetic Utterances Within Early Christianity," NTS 24 (1978) 175-98; id., Jesus Remembered, 2003, 139-254; B.S. Easton, The Gospel before the Gospels, 1928; E.E. Ellis, "New Directions in Form Criticism" in Jesus Christus in Historie und Theologie. FS H. Conzelmann, ed. G. Strecker, 1975; id., The Making of the New Testament Documents, 1999; id. "The Historical Jesus and the Gospels" in J. Ådna et al. eds., Evangelium—Schriftauslegung—Kirche P. Stuhlmacher FS, 1997) 94-106; B. Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript, 1961; id., The Origins of the Gospel Traditions, 1979; id., "Der Weg der Evangelientradition" in Das Evangelium und die Evangelien: Vorträge vom Tübinger Symposion 1982, ed. Peter Stuhlmacher, 1983, 79-102; id., The Reliability of the Gospel Tradition, 2001; E. Güttgemanns, Candid Questions Concerning Gospel Form Criticism, 1979; M. Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark, 1985; D. Hill, New Testament Prophecy, 1979; W.H. Kelber, The Oral and Written Gospel, 1983; E.E. Lemico, The Past of Jesus in the Gospels, 1991; R.H. Lightfoot, The Gospel Message of St. Mark, 1950; A.B. Lord, "The Gospels as Oral Traditional Literature," in The Relationships among the Gospels, ed.W.O. Walker, 1978, 33-91; A. Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus, 2000; F. Neugebauer, "Geistsprüche und Jesuslogien," ZNW 53 (1962) 218-28; H. Riesenfeld, The Gospel Tradition and its Beginning, 1957; R. Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer, 2d. ed., 1985; E.P. Sanders, Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition, 1969; E.P. Sanders & M. Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels, 1989; H.Schürmann, "Die vorosterlichen Anfänge der Logientradition’ in Der historische Jesus und der kerygmatische Christus, eds. H. Ristow & K. Matthiae, 1960, 342-370; R. Stein, The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction, 1987; Stonehouse, Origins of the Synoptic Gospels, chap 6; B.F. Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins, 1924; V. Taylor, Formation of the Gospel Tradition, 2d ed., 1935; S.H. Travis, "Form Criticism," in I.H. Marshall, ed., New Testament Interpretation, 1977, 153-64; J. Vansina, Oral Tradition as History, 1985.
There are a few references to Jesus outside of the gospels in Roman and Jewish sources. The Roman historian Tacitus, writing about 115 CE, reports "Christus ... was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius" (Annals 15.44). Jospephus, the Jewish historian, gives a brief description of Jesus in his Antiquities of the Jews, although it has probably been modified by Christian scribes (see Testimonium Flavianum). In addition, in the Book of Acts Paul cites a saying of Jesus that is absent from the gospels: "Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts 20:35). The only major literary sources the major literary sources for a reconstruction of Jesus' life, however, are the four canonical gospels. Among the canonical gospels, a distinction needs to be made between the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke—and the Gospel of John.
According to the available evidence, the Gospel of Mark was written by (John) Mark, who used the apostle Peter's teaching to the church in Rome as his source.
The earliest piece of external, direct evidence comes to us from Papias, bishop of Hierapolis and contemporary of Polycarp (c. 60-130), who quotes someone he identifies as "the elder" (ho presbuteros), probably John the elder, an authoritative figure among the churches in the province of Asia (H.E. 3.39.4, 15). Eusebius quotes from what he identifies as the five treatises written by Papias, entitled Interpretation of the Sayings of the Lord, which are no longer extant:
The first sentence is probably the statement of the elder, whereas the remainder is Papias' elaboration of the meaning of the elder's statement. Three claims are made in this quotation from Papias:
1. Mark wrote the gospel identified in Eusebius' day (and ours) as the Gospel of Mark;
2. Mark obtained his information from Peter, not being an eyewitness himself;
3. The gospel written by Mark lacks "order," reflecting the piecemeal and occasional nature of Peter's use of the gospel tradition in his teaching.
There are three questions raised by this quotation from Papias:
1. What exactly did Papias mean when he called Mark the "interpreter" (hermeneutês) of Peter? Although this term normally means interpreter, the context suggests more the meaning of "translator." It is possible that Mark translated into Greek and even Latin the gospel traditions in Aramaic to which Peter had access. Perhaps Mark translated it in order that Peter could use it to teach the Roman Christians, not because Peter could not do so at all, but because Mark could do it better.
2. Does the phrase pros tas chreias translated as "as necessity demanded" mean rather "in the form of chreia"? Chreia is a technical rhetorical term describing the type of teaching material that Peter used in the Roman church. Aelius Theon, the Alexandrian sophist, defines a chreia as "a concise and pointed account of something said or done, attributed to some particular person" (Progymnasmata 3.2-3). The material in Mark could be accurately described as chreia since it consists largely of isolated, self-contained units of tradition. Both translation options are possible and neither conflicts with any other known facts.
3. The elder says that Mark wrote accurately what Peter remembered (hosa emnemoneusen akribôs egrapsen) but not indeed in order (ou mentoi taxei). He did so probably because criticism was leveled against the Gospel of Mark for lacking chronological accuracy. In response, the elder points out that chronological accuracy was never Mark's intention. Papias explains further that Mark's method of composition was to collect the traditions used by Peter in his teaching and that there was nothing wrong with this.
Other External Evidence for Authorship
Another early association
of the Gospel of Mark with Peter is found in Justin's Dialogue
with Trypho (150): "It is said that he [Jesus] changed the name
of one of the apostles to Peter; and it is written in his memoirs
that he changed the names of others, two brothers, the sons of Zebedee,
to Boanerges, which means 'sons of thunder'...." (106.3). If by "his
memoirs" Justin means Peter's memoirs, then these memoirs must be
the Gospel of Mark, since only in it are the sons of Zebedee called
the sons of thunder (3:17). There
are other, later sources that identify Mark as the author of
the Gospel of Mark and Peter as his source.
Another early association of the Gospel of Mark with Peter is found in Justin's Dialogue with Trypho (150): "It is said that he [Jesus] changed the name of one of the apostles to Peter; and it is written in his memoirs that he changed the names of others, two brothers, the sons of Zebedee, to Boanerges, which means 'sons of thunder'...." (106.3). If by "his memoirs" Justin means Peter's memoirs, then these memoirs must be the Gospel of Mark, since only in it are the sons of Zebedee called the sons of thunder (3:17).
There are other, later sources that identify Mark as the author of the Gospel of Mark and Peter as his source.
1. Irenaeus (130-200) says that the Gospel of Mark was written "When Peter and Paul were preaching the gospel in Rome and founding the church there." He adds, "After their departure, Mark, Peter's disciple, has himself delivered to us in writing the substance of Peter's preaching" (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1; H.E. 5. 8. 2-4).
2. Citing an ancient tradition, Eusebius reports that Clement of Alexandria (150-215) in his Hypotyposeis describes how the Gospel of Mark came into being as follows, "When Peter had preached the gospel publicly in Rome...those who were present...besought Mark, since he had followed him (Peter) for a long time and remembered the things that had been spoken, to write out the things that had been said; and when he had done this he gave the gospel to those who asked him. When Peter learned of it later, he neither obstructed nor commended" (H.E. 6.14.6-7). It should be noted that Clement gives as his source for this information not a particular source but "the elders from the beginning" (tôn anekathen presbuterôn).
3. The fragment of the Anti-Marcionite Prologue (2nd century) says, "Mark declared, who is called 'stump-fingered,' because he had rather small fingers in comparison with the stature of the rest of his body. He was the interpreter of Peter. After the death of Peter himself he wrote down this same gospel in the regions of Italy."
4. In his dispute with Marcion and his followers, Tertullian (160-220) states about the Gospel of Mark, "While that [gospel] that Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter's whose interpreter Mark was" (Adv. Marc. 4.5).
(The first line of the Muratorian Fragment "But he was present among them, and so he put [the facts down in his Gospel]" probably refers to Mark's presence at Peter's discourses in Rome and his subsequent recording of these to become his gospel.)
Some scholars claim that some or all of these second and third century identifications of Mark as the author of the Gospel of Mark are dependent on Papias, in which case they are not independent testimonies. But there does not seem to be sufficient evidence to conclude in favor of such dependency. The burden of proof is on the one who asserts such dependence.
The evidence points to the conclusion that (John) Mark wrote the gospel that bears his name; his source was the teaching material that the apostle Peter used in the Roman church. Yet, in spite of the evidence, most New Testament scholars are reluctant to identify the author of the Gospel of Mark as [John] Mark and to trace its contents to the apostle Peter. Any other possibility is preferable to this, or so it seems. Thus, the testimony of the early church, no matter how early, is discounted as mere speculation. It should be noted, however, that if it was inventing authors for apologetic reasons to undergird the authority of the gospels against detractors the early church would surely have given the Gospel of Mark a direct apostolic origin, especially considering (John) Mark's compromised reputation due to his earlier desertion of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:13; 16:37-39).
The existence of three synoptic gospels does not mean three independent sources for a reconstruction of the life and teaching of Jesus. Although not accepted by all scholars, the literary evidence suggests that the authors of Matthew and Luke used Mark or something very close to it as a source for their own gospels. This accounts for the similarity of content and order of pericopes in the triple tradition (the content shared by the synoptic gospels). For the historian this means that prima facie the Markan version of a triple tradition is to have priority, on the assumption that any differences between Mark and the other two synoptic gospels are redactional. Yet this should not be dogmatically applied, since the possibility should always be allowed that one (or both) of the other synoptic writers was influenced by a parallel version of a Markan tradition, either written or oral. Indeed, on the assumption of Markan priority, it seems that when presented with a parallel tradition, Luke prefers the non-Markan version, whereas the author of Matthew tends to redact his Markan source.
A. Matthew and Luke include the vast majority of Mark's pericopes. Matthew contains 90% of Mark's material, while Luke has over 50% (B. F. Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins, 159-60). (The much lower percentage of Markan material in Luke is in part the result of the omission of a large block of Markan material from the gospel [Mark 6:45-8:26].) In addition, Matthew and Luke are both longer than the gospel of Mark. Mark contains 11,025 words, while Matthew has 18,293 and Luke 19,376 words (R. Stein, The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction, 48). This can be plausibly explained on the hypothesis that the authors of Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, adding to their Markan source material that, for whatever reason, was not used by Mark. Conversely, a motive for the creation of Mark is lacking, if it depends on Matthew and Luke or just Matthew, since Mark would only be a shorter version of one or both of the other synoptic gospels.
B. What is unique to the Gospel of Mark tends to be material that is more easily explained as being omitted than as being inserted, which would be the case if the author of Mark is literarily dependent on Matthew and/or Luke. The following pericopes in Mark are in neither Matthew nor Luke: Mark 3:20-21; 4:26-29; 7:31-37; 8:22-26; 9:49; 14:51-52. On the hypothesis of Markan priority, the authors of Matthew and Luke must have chosen not to include these pericopes. In three cases, at least, it is understandable why these authors would have omitted such material from their Markan source. Mark 3:20-21 would have been passed over because it may be interpreted as placing Jesus and his family in a bad light; likewise, since the incident of the young man fleeing naked (Mark 14:51-52) is strange and irrelevant to the narrative, its omission would be understandable. Finally, since the meaning of Jesus' saying about being salted with fire was no longer retrievable, the tendency would be for it to disappear. (See W. G. Kümmel, Einleitung in das Neue Testament, 30).
C. The order of pericopes in the triple tradition is similar. Although they agree at times in not having a pericope found in Mark, when they depart from Mark's order, Matthew and Luke do not do so in the same way. Rather, when Matthew departs from Mark's order, Luke supports it, and, when Luke departs from Mark's order, Matthew supports it. This means that Mark is the middle term in the relationship between the three: Mark is closer to Matthew and Luke than they are to each other. (It should be stressed that Matthew and especially Luke generally agree with the Markan order of the triple tradition.) On the hypothesis of Markan priority, this phenomenon is explained by postulating that Matthew and Luke independently used Mark as a source, never coincidentally changing the Markan order in the same way.
D. There is substantial verbatim agreement in the triple tradition. The agreement is the closest when reporting speech, especially that of Jesus. When there is no verbatim agreement in the triple tradition, the pattern is such that frequently either Mark and Matthew agree against Luke or Mark and Luke agree against Matthew. This means that most times Mark is the middle term in the relationship between the three: Mark is closer to Matthew and Luke than they are to each other. (It often happens that there is no verbatim agreement in the triple tradition.) On the hypothesis of Markan priority, this phenomenon is explained by postulating that the authors of Matthew and Luke independently used Mark as a source and both tended to make relatively few changes to their Markan source, especially when reporting the words of Jesus. When there is no verbatim agreement in the triple tradition, typically Matthew or Luke diverges from the Markan source, while the other remains true to it, which is what one would expect from authors using a common source independently of each other. This would explain why Mark is the middle term in the relationship between the three synoptic gospels. On rare occasions, both Matthew and Luke depart from their Markan source in the same way (the so-called "minor agreements"). Sometimes, the author of Matthew or Luke (but more often Matthew) adds related material to the Markan source.
E. In most cases, Matthean additions to the triple tradition are absent from Luke (see Matt 8:17; 10:5-8; 12:5-7; 12:11-12a; 13:14-15; 14:28-31; 16:17; 17:6-7; 18:3-4; 19:9). Likewise, there are Lukan additions to the triple tradition not found in Matthew, but not as many as in Matthew (see Luke 4:14a; 5:17; 9:23; 9:31-32; 9:48) (see Stein, The Synoptic Problem, 91-95). The hypothesis of Markan priority best explains this phenomenon insofar as it postulates that neither Matthew nor Luke used the other as a source; rather, both independently made additions to their Markan source.
F. In general, Mark has longer versions of pericopes than do Matthew and Luke. Stein provides a list of the number of words in each of the versions of the pericopes in the triple tradition from the baptism of Jesus until the Passion Narrative (The Synoptic Problem, 49-51). He calculates that in the fifty-one units listed, Mark has the longest version twenty-two times, Matthew eleven times and Luke ten times times. These data support the hypothesis of Markan priority, insofar as the authors of Matthew and Luke would independently tend to shorten the Markan pericopes, in order to make room for additional, non-Markan material. (In addition, Mark has its origin as oral tradition, which usually is more repetitious and wordy than a literary work.) On the Griesbach or two-gospel hypothesis, one must assume improbably that Mark not only chose to omit much important material from his sources (Matthew and Luke), but also chose to lengthen unnecessarily the material that he did use. It seems more unlikely, however, that Mark would both omit and lengthen at the same time.
G. Stylistically, Mark must be judged to be inferior to Matthew and Luke. It is less literary, resembling the Greek of common speech (which is explainable on the assumption that it was originally oral tradition). On the two-source hypothesis, this is explained by postulating that Matthew and Luke tended to bring their Markan source more in line with Greek literary convention; they independently improved their Markan source. It is less likely that Mark would render his sources literarily inferior, as one must assume on the Griesbach or two-gospel hypothesis and the Augustinian hypothesis. Farmer’s contention that Mark’s diction is not literarily inferior, but reflects later usage is weak.
As indicated there are instances of minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark in almost all pericopes of the triple tradition; these consist of both negative and positive agreements, but are relatively few. The percentage of agreement between Matthew and Luke against Mark is about six per cent (See Frans Neirynck, The Minor Agreements in a Horizontal-Line Synopsis, who lists over 770 such agreements and Stoldt, Markan Hypothesis, who finds 272.). These minor agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark are a weakness for the hypothesis of Markan priority. Indeed, for W. Farmer, the minor agreements are one of the three major objections to the two source hypothesis, the other two being the fact that the Markan order is reflected in Matthew and Luke—especially the fact that Matthew and Luke never agree with each other against Mark in order—and features of Mark that allegedly indicate lateness in composition. Admittedly, the minor agreements would be best explained as resulting from Luke’s use of Matthew and Mark as literary sources, but in conjunction with the other evidence, a less simple explanation(s) is required.
On the hypothesis of Markan priority, the minor agreements in the triple tradition between Matthew and Luke in the triple tradition are explained in two ways. First, the authors of Matthew and Luke may have coincidentally made the same changes to their Markan source. This explanation becomes more probable when one notices that the positive agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark tend to be literary improvements and that negative agreements were bound to occur since both tended to condense their Markan source. Second, some positive and negative agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark could have resulted from both being dependent on an earlier version of Mark's gospel that differed slightly from the canonical version (a proto-Mark), from textual corruption of Mark or from textual corruption of Matthew or Luke in the form of assimilation of one passage to its parallel (Hawkins, Horae Synopticae, 208-15; Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins, 293-31; Stein, The Synoptic Problem, 113-28). (As we shall see below, other agreements in the triple tradition between Matthew and Luke against Mark resulted from there having been overlaps in content between Q and Mark.)
3.3.1. Double Tradition
It is clear that Mark is not the only source of material on Jesus behind the synoptic gospels, for Matthew and Luke have a large amount of material in common (c. 200 verses), the so-called double tradition, that is absent from Mark. (By definition, whatever material that Matthew and Luke have in common that is not found in Mark is included as part of the double tradition.) Almost all of the double tradition is sayings material as opposed to narrative. What evidence exists supports the conclusion that the double tradition was not available to Matthew and Luke as a single document. The widely divergent verbatim agreement and the lack of a common order of pericopes seem to preclude such a conclusion. For this reason, what scholars refer to as the Q-source should be understood, not as a single document, but merely as a convenient way of referring to non-Markan traditions about Jesus available to Matthew and Luke, either orally or as written sources.
Verbatim agreement in the double tradition varies widely in extent. In some cases, pericopes in Matthew and Luke are almost identical, while in other cases a case two pericopes are so different that one is hard pressed to justify the postulation of a literary relation between them. In a few cases, the differences are so great that one can legitimately question whether one is dealing with two versions of the same tradition at all, and not two different traditions. In part, the differences between the Matthean and Lukan versions of non-Markan pericopes may be explained on the hypothesis of Matthean and Lukan redactional activity. In other words, either Matthew or Luke (or both) may have made editorial changes to their non-Markan tradition; this is probable, since both made such changes to their Markan source. Nevertheless, the fact that agreement between Matthew and Luke in the double tradition varies so greatly is difficult to explain on the assumption that Matthew and Luke used a common written source, for a motive is lacking for such a variable and inconsistent redaction of this source. It is significant that neither Matthew nor Luke handles their Markan source in this way.
The conclusion follows that divergence in the extent of verbatim agreement in the double tradition precludes holding that there was a single document to which Matthew and Luke each had access, conventionally called the Q-source (Spruche-Quelle or Sayings Source), even when one posits the existence of a Matthean and Lukan version of this hypothetical source, known as QMatt and QLuke. (If one allows for too many differences between its two rescensions, QMatt and QLuke, however, the Q-source ceases to be a single document but becomes two overlapping collections of traditions.) The widely divergent verbatim agreement requires a less simple explanation than that Matthew and Luke independently made use of a common written source, since there is no credible explanation as to why Matthew and/or Luke would use this document in such an inconsistent manner. Many of the differences between pericopes of the double tradition probably result from there being more than one written or oral sayings collections with different versions of the same saying and with different, but similar sayings. In addition, it must be remembered that there is no direct evidence that this hypothetical document ever existed: no manuscript evidence or references to it in other text exists. Things become even more complicated and speculative when the Q-source is "excavated," and its layers allegedly uncovered. If there is insufficient evidence for the existence of the Q-source, however, much less is there for its evolution as a document.
In Matthew most of the double tradition is found in five teaching sections (5:1-7:27; 10:5-42; 13:3-52; 18:3-35; 23:2-25:46), whereas in Luke it occurs in two blocks, one large (9:51-18:14) and one small (6:20-8:2). The order of the appearance of the double tradition in relation to the triple tradition (which tends to share a common order of pericopes) in Matthew and Luke varies greatly. Nevertheless, the order of the double tradition is not completely random: there is discernible what could be interpreted as traces of a common order in the double tradition in Matthew and Luke. First, a few, shorter common sequences of material exist in the double tradition, especially at the beginning and the end of the gospels. (Those pericopes in Matthew and Luke that have a common order or nearly a common order are marked with an asterisk in the list of double tradition above.) Second, in Matthew's list the larger numbers tend to be towards the end of the gospel and the smaller numbers tend to be towards the beginning, which, on the assumption that Luke did not make use of Matthew's gospel as a source, may be interpreted to mean that some of the double material had a common order that still vaguely survives. (For example, the average of the first ten pericopes from the double tradition in Matthew is 13.7, whereas the average of the last ten pericopes is 42.6.) On the two-source hypothesis, this could be explained by positing that Matthew and Luke independently made use of both unordered and partially-ordered written or oral sayings-sources. Matthew and Luke combined the mostly sayings from these sources with their Markan source in different ways, so that there remain only traces of whatever original order existed. This hypothesis probably best accounts for the great variation in the order of the double tradition and the traces of a common order in it. If this is not the correct explanation, then without further evidence what happened to produce the result that now exists is historically irrecoverable. (Proof of the existence of written sources is the fact that Luke says that when he wrote his gospel there had already been more than one attempt to write accounts of Jesus' life and work, "the things that were fulfilled among us" before his own (Luke 1:1-4). One of these may have been the Gospel of Mark, but obviously Luke has access to at least one other written source. In 2 Tim 4:13 Paul refers to his books [biblia] and parchments [membrana] that he wanted Titus to bring to him; it is not inconceivable that the parchments at least may have been written sayings-sources.) The least-satisfactory explanation of the lack of a common order of the double tradition is that Matthew and Luke use a common written source, the Q-source, and independently make major changes to its order in spite of the fact that they are more or less faithful to the Markan order.
In the early twentieth century, B. F. Streeter expanded the two-source hypothesis to become the four-source hypothesis (The Four Gospels: A Study in Origins). It is possible that what is unique to Matthew and Luke was available only to one or the other gospel writer. Thus, in order to take into account the Lukan and Matthean "special tradition," Streeter proposed that the three synoptic gospels ultimately derive from four sources: Mark, Q, M (Matthean Special Tradition), L (Lukan Special Tradition). But, since it was concluded that there was no document now known as the Q-source, it makes no sense to speak of Lukan and Matthean special sources. Luke had access to non-Markan material, as did Matthew. (In fact, Mark may have had access to "non-Markan" material: he may have chosen not to include traditions in his gospel that were available to him.) It is possible that Matthew had material to which Luke did not have access and vice versa; or it is possible that Matthew or Luke chose not to include certain traditions that the other did include (It would be erroneous to conclude that necessarily each gospel writer included all the tradition available to him [see John 20:30-31]). In any case, rather than speaking of the "Q" source (in the sense of a single document), the special Lukan source and the special Matthean source, it would be better simply to differentiate between the Gospel of Mark and the non-Markan material as sources for Matthew and Luke.
Little is known about the beginning and history of the gospel tradition before the composition of the synoptic gospels. One can only extrapolate from what little evidence exists, being careful not to exceed the evidence. It is probable that there was a period in the history of the church when the synoptic gospel tradition existed at least in part as independent units of oral tradition. (But one cannot rule out that very early some of the material was written down in private notebooks [see Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 248; chap. 11].) During the earliest period after the inception of the church, these oral traditions alone existed along with whatever smaller written collections of material may have existed. Luke provides an rare insight into the origin of the gospel tradition.
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, in order that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)
Luke refers to how "eyewitnesses and servants of the word" passed on information about Jesus ("the things fulfilled among us") (Luke 1:2). (He also indicates that he was not the first to produce a written gospel: "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us.") Since Luke uses the term "to pass on" (paradidomi), it is probable that the information about Jesus that they passed on was oral tradition (Luke 1:2). (Paradidomi is the standard term in Greek to describe the passing on of oral tradition.) This group is more than likely the twelve apostles or perhaps a wider group of people (Acts 1:21-22) (see Stonehouse, Origins of the Synoptic Gospels, chap 6). From what Luke writes, this group disseminated and controlled information about Jesus. (As we shall see, this same group may also have responsible for safeguarding and the passing on of tradition.) So, as B. Gerhardsson points out, Luke 1:1-4 is "the most important item of information which is preserved from the first Christian centuries about the pre-history of the gospels" (The Gospel Tradition, 28; see 29-30). That Peter functioned as "an eyewitness and servant of the word" in the church of Rome is the testimony of the early church fathers, for, as already indicated, several statements are made in their writings to the effect that Mark derived his source material from Peter's preaching and teaching. Other disciples no doubt did likewise in other places. Clement of Alexandria explains that writing gospels was not part of the mission of the apostles; rather, they saw themselves as called to teach. He speculates that perhaps the apostles, whom he calls "elders," viewed the functions of the speaker and the writer as incompatible (Eclog. Proph. 27). (This may explain why Mark became Peter's "interpreter.") In conclusion, as B.F. Westcott says, "The characteristic work of the Apostles was preaching, and not writing; that they were inclined to this form of teaching by character and training, no less than by their special commision; that the first 'Gospel' was consequently an oral message, and not a written record; that the books of the Old Testament were the sufficient Apostolic Scriptures (cf. 2 Tim iii. 15)" (Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, 190). The written "gospels" ultimately derive from the original oral "gospel."
Evidence that oral tradition was foundational to the earliest Christian churches is found in Paul's writings (B. Gerhardsson, The Origins of the Gospel Traditions, chaps. 6-7). Sometimes it is thought by scholars that Paul was perennially at odds with the Jerusalem establishment and sought to create an alternative form of Christianity among his gentile converts. It is clear from his letters, however, that Paul's practice was to transmit to his churches oral traditions that no doubt derived ultimately from the original "eyewitnesses and servants of the word" ((1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:1-5; Gal 1:9; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6) (see the use of the terms "to receive" (paralambanein) and "to deliver" (paradidesthai) in Jos., Ant. 13.297; Apion 1.60; Mark 7:4, 13; Acts 6:14; see also m. Abot 1.1). Although evidence for when and how he received traditions about Jesus is lacking, Paul may have received traditions directly from Peter during his fifteen-day stay with him after his conversion (Gal 1:18). Of course, he could also have received tradition from other sources immediately after his conversion or at any time afterwards. In two places, Paul actually cites oral traditions that he passed on. In 1 Cor 11:23-25, he reiterates for the Corinthians the tradition of the words of institution, different versions of which occur in the synoptic gospels; this unit of tradition obviously had a liturgical function within Paul's churches. He writes,
Similarly, in 1 Cor 15:1-7, Paul cites an oral tradition about Jesus' death and resurrection, a sort of condensation of the kerygma. Interestingly, some elements of this kerygma tradition are not found in the synoptic gospels, such as Jesus' appearance to Peter, the twelve and to the 500 brothers at once. He explains,
Paul also cited gospel tradition in his dealing with problems in the Corinthian church (1 Cor 7:10, 12, 25 [see Mark 10:1-12 = Matt 19:1b-12; Matt 5:32 = Luke 16:18]; 1 Cor 9:14 [see Matt 10:9-10 = Luke 10:7]) and in 1 Tim 6:13 [Jesus' trial before Pilate]). Thus, in addition to his own teaching, Paul's churches probably received from him oral traditions, most of which found their way into the synoptic gospels (but see Acts 20:35). That Paul did not cite more of the gospel tradition in his letters should probably be explained by their occasional nature. In fact, Irenaeus (130-c.200) claims that Paul was a source of tradition about Jesus for Luke: "Luke the companion of Paul set forth in a book the gospel a preached by him (Paul)" (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1). In addition, Eusebius says that Paul adopted Luke’s gospel as his own gospel: "And they say that Paul was actually accustomed to quote from Luke’s gospel since when writing of some gospel as his own he used to say, ‘According to my gospel’" (H.E. 3.4.7). If these two data are true, then one of Luke's sources for his gospel was Paul, who then made use of Luke's gospel after it was written.
Information from Papias and Irenaeus sheds some light on the importance of oral tradition in the early church. As quoted by Eusebius, Papias explains in his Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord that at an earlier period in his life he used to collect oral traditions concerning what Jesus said and did from men he identifies as "elders" (presbuteroi). He writes in his prologue:
And I shall not hesitate to append to the interpretations all that I ever learned well from the elders and remember well, for of their truth I am confident....But if ever anyone came who had followed the elders, I inquired (anekrinon) into the words of the elders, what Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John or Matthew, or any other of the Lord's disciples had said, and what Aristion and the elder John, the Lord's disciples, were saying. For I did not suppose that information from books would help me so much as the word of a living and surviving voice. (H.E. 3.39.3-4)
Papias states that he sought out people who were followers of the elders, who by the list that he provides seem to be Jesus' twelve disciples. The natural reading of Papias' statement is that the phrase "the words of the elders" is equivalent to "what Andrew Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John or Matthew, or any other of the Lord's disciples, had said." (It is these traditions deriving from the elders that he includes in his work, Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord.) If so, then by the phrase "any other of the Lord's disciples" he means any of the other five disciples. What complicates matters, however, is the references to Aristion and the elder John and their identification as "disciples." Now it is possible that elder John is the same John mentioned earlier in the partial list of Jesus' disciples and is not another man named John (contrary to Eusebius' own theory). He is mentioned again because, unlike the others, he is still living. But who Aristion is and why he is named as a disciple is not clear. At any rate, it is clear that Papias had access to and greatly valued oral tradition that could be traced back to the "elders," the twelve disciples, through an intermediate group of followers of the elders. Moreover, based on extant fragments of his work, even though he knew of the existence of at least Mark and Matthew, Papias actually preferred "the word of a living and surviving voice" to what was written in a book. According to Eusebius, Papias did record some unwritten traditions about Jesus in his now-extinct work: "Some strange parables and teaching of the Savior and some other more mythical accounts" (As indicated, Eusebius did not have a high opinion of Papias' intelligence and competence, which explains why he disparages him as a source of tradition about Jesus.)
Irenaeus likewise provides an insight into the role of oral tradition in the early church. He explains that as a boy he would listen to what Polycarp taught about what John the apostle and others who had seen the Lord related about what Jesus said and did, "concerning his miracles and his teaching." He writes:
For when I was a boy, I saw you in lower Asia with Polycarp, moving in splendor in the royal court, and endeavoring to gain his approval. I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it; so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts that he gave of his interactions with John and with the others who had seen the Lord, how he remembered their word, and what were the things concerning the Lord that he had heard from them, concerning his miracles and his teaching, and how Polycarp received them from eyewitnesses of the word of life [1 John 1:1]. He related all things in harmony with the Scriptures. These things being told me by the mercy of God, I listened to them attentively, noting them down, not on paper, but in my heart. And continually, through God's grace, I recall them faithfully. (H.E. 5.20.5-7)
As a boy, Irenaeus would listen to Polycarp, whom he considered to be a reliable link to the disciple John and "others who had seen the Lord." Irenaeus calls Polycarp's sources "the eyewitnesses of the word of life." Like Papias, in spite of having written gospels, Polycarp nevertheless valued oral tradition, as did Irenaeus, who said that he would make note of what Polycarp said "not on paper but in his heart."
From this evidence, it is clear that decades after the gospels were written oral tradition was still valued and still circulated. Based on this it is reasonable to assume that before there were written gospels the twelve disciples ("eyewitnesses and servants of the word" [Luke], "elders" [Papias] or "eyewitnesses of the word of life" [Irenaeus]) and later their followers were repositories of information about Jesus, which they delivered orally from church to church. It should also be noted that oral tradition was not anonymous, but connected to an authoritative person, either one of the twelve disciples or an intermediate who could be connected to one of the twelve disciples. Different from the modern world, in the ancient world, oral tradition was greatly valued and not looked upon with suspicion. It must be remembered that most people in the ancient world were illiterate, so that listening to oral tradition was the only means of access for most people to what Jesus did and said. So when they were written, the synoptic gospels did not give something new to churches that received them, because for a few decades they had been hearing the content of the synoptic gospels as oral tradition. (The example of how the Gospel of Mark came into existence is a case in point.)
After a long period of intense investigation into the synoptic question (source criticism), the focus of scholarly activity shifted to the period before the written gospels. Thus in the early twentieth-century there arose the discipline known as Form Criticism, which investigates the brief, but important period in which the gospel tradition existed at least partially as independent units of oral tradition. It must be said, however, that form critics have tended to claim to know far more than the evidence warrants.
The following valid methodological assumptions underlie the discipline of Form Criticism; these assumptions will influence how the synoptic tradition is used in historical reconstruction.
Before their incorporation into the synoptic gospels, the narrative and the sayings material of the gospel tradition, with the possible exception of the Passion narrative, circulated as isolated, self-contained units. As already indicated, there is sufficient evidence that oral traditions existed. Many of these probably began as as autonomous, single units of tradition and over time were brought together into small collections organized thematically, as short chronological sequences or by means of link-words. (One should not assume that collections of traditions came into existence only when the gospels were written [see H.-W. Kuhn, Ältere Sammlungen im Markusevangelium; Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 246-48].) Although little is known of the history of the gospel tradition, evidence for the discreteness of the gospel tradition is the episodic character of Mark and the probable existence of oral and written collections of sayings material (with some narrative) used by Matthew and Luke. Also, the "logia" that Papias says that Matthew wrote in Hebrew or Aramaic may have been a collection of isolated, self-contained sayings of Jesus (H.E. 3.39.16). What Papias says about how Mark "wrote down single points of Peter's teaching as he remembered them" also confirms that the gospel tradition originally circulated as isolated, self-contained units (H.E. 3.39.15)
The different units of gospel tradition can be classified as instances of different forms of oral tradition.
1. Proposed Systems of Classification
Three of the most frequently used systems of classification are those of M. Dibelius (From Tradition to Gospel), R. Bultmann (History of the Synoptic Tradition) and V. Taylor (The Formation of the Gospel Tradition.)
Taylor's classification is to be preferred, since it is simpler and does not prejudge the historical value of the traditions in the way that Dibelius and Bultmann's do ("legends" and "myths"). (There have been other, more recent attempts to classify forms of the gospel tradition, most notably Kelber, The Oral and Written Gospel; K. Berger, Formgeschichte des Neuen Testaments. Berger offers a more detailed classification.)
2. The Forms of the Gospel Tradition
a. Pronouncement Stories are narratives that culminate in a short, poignant saying of Jesus; the narrative actually functions as a frame for the saying. (It is common today to use the Hellenistic category of chreia to denote this form [see Sanders, Studying the Synoptic Gospels, chap. 10].) Taylor explains, "They [Pronouncement Stories] culminate in a saying of Jesus which expresses some ethical or religious precept; the saying may be evoked by a friendly question or other, or may be associated with an incident which is indicated in very few words." (Formation of the Gospel Tradition, 63). The reason that Pronouncement Stories were preserved and told was for the instruction that it offered to the first believers. Examples of pronouncement stories include Mark 10:13-16 and 12:13-17.
i. Mark 10:13-16
ii. Mark 12:13-17
b. Miracle Stories are narratives in which Jesus' compassion and power are demonstrated through healing, exorcism or control over nature. Typically, a Miracle Story begins with a description of the situation, followed by the miracle, the results confirming the miracle and the response of the onlookers. The purpose for the creation and telling of Miracle Stories was to present Jesus as compassionate and powerful. Examples of Miracle Stories include Mark 1:23-27; 1:29-31.
i. Mark 1:23-27
ii. Mark 1:29-31
c. The third type of narrative form in the synoptic gospels are Stories about Jesus. This classification really describes the content and not the form in which it occurs, since there is considerable formal diversity. Stories about Jesus serve a biographical interest. Examples include Mark 6:14-16; Mark 9:2-10.
i. Mark 6:14-16
ii. Mark 9:2-10
d. In addition to narrative forms, Taylor classifies some gospel tradition as Sayings and Parables. Although all the traditions classified as such are sayings material, there is nonetheless considerable formal diversity among this material. Some of these sayings may have circulated in the tradition as part of sayings-collections. Bultmann attempts to find formal consistency by identifying sub-groups of sayings; but even these are partially determined by their content rather than their literary form.
In general, the gospel tradition survived and assumed its present form because it functioned to meet the religious needs of the early church. It goes without saying that the early church made use of the gospel tradition in its preaching, teaching and worship. It follows that the tradition was preserved because of these religious needs and was molded by them. An obvious example is the tradition of the words of institution. Although cast in narrative form, they served the liturgical needs of the church; the omission any reference to anything distinctly paschal in nature with respect to the meal is no doubt as result of liturgical use (see 1 Cor 11:23-25). This point was made before the rise of Form Criticism by B. F. Westcott, Introduction to the Study of the Gospels.
Based on these assumptions, Form Criticism as a discipline sets for itself a threefold task in its investigation of the synoptic gospels.
1. Form Criticism seeks to classify the gospel tradition formally. It analyses all pericopes and assigns each to a formal category.
2. Form Criticism seeks to identify the "Setting-in-Life" (Sitz-im-Leben) in the early church to which a form is attached. It seeks to uncover the religious needs of the church and identify how the forms of the gospel tradition functioned to meet those needs.
3. Form Criticism seeks to trace the history of the tradition of pericopes from their origins to their inclusion in the synoptic gospels. The form critic aims to determine how and why a specific pericope developed as it was passed down orally (see K. Berger, Formgeschichte des Neuen Testaments; E. Sanders, Studying the Synoptic Gospels, 133-34).
To varying degrees most practitioners of form-criticism, work from other, invalid methodological assumptions. The most extreme of the form critics in this regard is R. Bultmann (History of the Synoptic Tradition; id., "The New Aproach to the Synoptic Problem," JR 6 (1926) 337-62) and his followers. These invalid assumptions are as follows.
The religious needs of the early church not only shaped the gospel tradition but also gave rise to it. In other words, a saying or a narrative tradition was created in order to meet a religious need in the early church. The source of the creation of these post-Easter gospel traditions is allegedly early Christian prophets who spoke in the name of the risen Christ. Form critics consider that the 30–40 year gap between Jesus and the written gospels was sufficient time for the church to create all manner of unhistorical traditions about Jesus, including sayings. Paul refers to Christian prophets (1 Cor 12:28-29; 14:29, 32, 37; Eph 2:20; 3:5; 4:11) and Christian prophecy (Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 11:4-5; 12:10; 13:2, 8-9; 14:1, 3-5, 6, 22, 24, 31, 39; 1 Thess 5:20; 1 Tim 1:18; 4:14) The Book of Acts also makes the occasional reference to early Christian prophets (11:27-28; 13:1; 15:32; 21:9-10). Based on these references, some scholars create a group in the early church who were responsible for the creation and modification of much of the early tradition about Jesus. They supposedly had no awareness of the difference between the risen Christ speaking through them and the historical Jesus. 1 Thess 5:15 (16-17) is often said to be an example of early Christian prophecy: "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep" (see E. Boring, The Contunuing Voice of Jesus. Christian Prophecy and the Gospel Tradition). The 'word of the Lord' is actually a prophecy received by an early Christian prophet and delivered to the church at Thessalonica.
What little evidence exists from the earliest period of the church, however, does not support this position.
1. Although there were early Christian prophets, the evidence suggests that they did not identify the earthly Jesus with the risen Christ who was supposed to be speaking through them. There is no example of an early Christian prophet speaking in the name of Jesus. Agabus, for example speaks by the (Holy) Spirit (Acts 21:11; 11:28). Moreover, the few examples in the New Testament of the risen Christ's speaking (Matt 28:17-20; 2 Cor 12:9; Rev 3:20; 16:15) imply that the church did distinguish between the earthly Jesus and the risen Christ (See Riesenfeld, The Gospel Tradition and its Beginning, 25-26; Gerhardsson, "Der Weg der Evangelientradition"; D. Hill, New Testament Prophecy; J. Dunn, "Prophetic 'I'-Sayings and the Jesus Tradition: The Importance of Testing Prophetic Utterances Within Early Christianity," NTS 24 (1978) 175-98; D. Aune, Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World; F. Neugebauer, "Geistsprüche und Jesuslogien," ZNW 53 (1962) 218-28). For an earlier general critique of Form Criticism, see W. Manson, Jesus the Messiah, 20-32).
2. The fact that the early church did not attribute to the earthly Jesus sayings for the purpose of addressing problems that arose in the early church suggests that the church was not in the habit of creating sayings of Jesus in order to meet its religious needs. Problems such as the conditions under which gentiles could be incorporated into the church were resolved without recourse to a saying of Jesus (Acts 15). Along the same lines, when dealing with the question of divorce, Paul cites a saying of Jesus to address one aspect of the problem, but admits that he has no word of the Lord to address its other aspects (1 Cor 7:10, 12) (Gerhardsson, The Origins of the Gospel Traditions, 35). This is good evidence that the early church did not create gospel traditions.
3. Although in general the gospel tradition was useful to the early church, some apparently non-usable teachings of Jesus were retained and passed on. These include traditions that are difficult (but not impossible) to reconcile with the theology of the early church (see, for example, Mark 10:18; Matt 10:5-6; Mark 9:1) or obscure sayings and parables (see Matt 11:12; Mark 9:49-50). In addition, the most common Christological title used of Jesus in the synoptic gospels is "son of man," but this title is not used in the early church. These data suggest that the religious needs of the early church did not give rise to the gospel tradition; rather, Jesus' sayings were accorded an intrinsic value, so that in some cases they were preserved and passed on, even without being useful (Riesenfeld, The Gospel Tradition and its Beginning; Gerhardsson, "Der Weg der Evangelientradition; Stein, The Synoptic Problem, 188).
4. The gospel tradition in many cases created the religious need in the church rather than the need's creating the gospel tradition (Stein, The Synoptic Problem, 177-78). For example, Jewish Christians had no "need" of pericopes that defend a particular stance towards the Sabbath (see Mark 2:23-28 or Luke 14:1-6) before becoming Christians. After their conversion they would adopt Jesus' views on the Sabbath, as reflected in the gospel tradition. Thus, the motive for the church's creation of gospel tradition disappears.
5. The formation of the gospel tradition probably had its beginnings with Jesus himself, not with the early church. Although there are no explicit indications in the gospels, Jesus, in conformity with the practice of teachers in the ancient world, may have required that his disciples memorize teaching material, possibly making private notes (see B. Easton, The Gospel Before the Gospel; id., Christ in the Gospels; H. Riesenfeld, The Gospel Tradition and Its Beginnings; B. Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript; id., The Origins of the Gospel Traditions; R. Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer, 246-66, 357-79, 408-53; E. Earl Ellis, The Making of the New Testament Documents; Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 173-254). Also Jesus probably carefully crafted his originally Aramaic teaching material so as to be poignant and easily committed to memory. C.F. Burney noted that Jesus' teaching uses features characteristic of Hebrew poetry such parallelism (antithetic and synthethic) and rhythm (four-beat, three-beat, kina metre) (The Poetry of Our Lord). M. Black points out the probable alliteration, assonance and paronomasia that characterized the original Aramaic teaching that would make it more easily committed to memory (An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, 160-85; see J. Jeremias, New Testament Theology, 14-29). From the fact that the disciples request that Jesus teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1), one could infer that it was Jesus' practice to give teaching material to his disciples for memorization. Likewise, that Jesus required his disciples to remember his words is implied in Luke 9:44a: "Let these words sink into your ears" (Riesner, Jesus als Lehrer, 444-45). In fact, without teaching material, it would have been impossible for the disciples to have gone out two-by-two to announce the Kingdom of God, as is described in the synoptic gospels (Schürmann, "Die vorösterlichen Anfange der Logientradition"; Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 243-44). Similarly, when the they went out to announce the Kingdom of God, the disciples no doubt would recount eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ compassion and power (“Miracle Stories’), so that this is the beginning of the some narrative traditions about Jesus.
The creation and transmission of the gospel tradition was an anonymous, unconscious and spontaneous process. Like folk traditions, it was the product of a community over time.
Unfortunately, since little is known of the creation, preservation and transmission of the gospel tradition, wildly divergent theories have arisen, all claiming the support of what little evidence does exist. Nevertheless, it seems that the gospel tradition is wrongly compared to folk tradition: not all oral tradition is of this kind. In first-century Judaism (and among Hellenistic philosophers/teachers), it was common for teachers to have his students commit material to memory or make notes of it. In this way, vast amounts of legal and other material were transmitted accurately through many generations. Alterations to the tradition may have been made, but these were conscious and deliberate. The gospel tradition should be understood on analogy to this ancient process of the oral transmission of teaching material. (Gerhardsson finds the closest analogy to early rabbis and their students, whereas Schürmann sees a closer resemblance to a prophet and his disciples.) Besides, it must be noted that the period during which the gospel tradition would have existed in an oral form would have been no more than forty years; contrary to the form critics, this is too short of a time for the type of development that occurs in the passing on of folk traditions to occur (see Güttgemanns, Some Candid Questions Concerning Gospel Form Criticism, 119-50). Thus the position that almost nothing of the gospel tradition is historical is clearly unwarranted.
Moreover, what some form critics overlook is the role that authoritative eyewitnesses played in the early church. As already indicated, there is sufficient evidence that there existed men called "eyewitnessess and servants of the word" who transmitted authoritative tradition to the early church (Luke 1:1-4) (see aslo John 19:35: "And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true"). This group no doubt included the disciples, and possibly consisted solely of them; they functioned as "an authoritative collegium" (Gerhardsson, The Reliability of the Gospel Tradition, 73). The disciples would be qualified to assume this role, not only because they had been present for most of the events depicted in the gospels, but also because they had been entrusted by Jesus with teaching material and may have even possessed private, written collections of Jesus' teaching. An insight into their role in the early church is found in Acts 4:19-20, where Peter and John tell the Sanhedrin, "We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard" (4:20). Indeed, a critierion for choosing a replacement for Judas was that he has "accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us" and there that he be "witness with us of his resurrection" (Acts 1:21-22; see John 15:27). As "eyewitnesses and servants of the word," the disciples would be in a position to control the transmission of the gospel tradition during the relatively few years in which it circulated orally among the churches. As both Papias and Irenaeus indicate, oral tradition about Jesus was not anonymous but was traced back to authoritative sources. (Gerhardsson points out, in refutation of Kelber, that oral tradition does not necessarily mean flexibility as determined by the audience; rather oral tradition can be as fixed [or even more so] than a written text [The Gospel Tradition, 28-39.) That even Paul deferred to their authority is clear from Gal 2:1-2; Acts 15; as indicated, he no doubt also received gospel tradition from them. As Riesenfeld puts it, the gospel tradition was "esoteric" in the sense that access to it was controlled by a defined group within the early church (The Gospel Tradition and Its Beginnings, 18). (See B. Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript; id., The Origins of the Gospel Tradition; E.E. Ellis, "New Directions in Form Criticism."). The presence of authoritative eyewitnesses in the early church makes K.E. Bailey's proposal of an "informal controlled tradition" as distinguished from Bultmann's informal uncontrolled tradition and Gerhardson's formal controlled tradition unconvincing (K.E. Bailey, "Informal Controlled Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels," Asia Journal of Theology 5 (1991) 34-51; id., "Middle Eastern Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels," ExpT 106 (1995) 563-67). It was not the community as a whole that exercised control over the tradition (on analogy to village culture), but rather authoritative eyewitnesses.
It is sometimes objected that, if the gospel tradition was so faithfully transmitted, the differences between versions of the same pericope cannot be explained (Sanders, Studying the Synoptic Gospels, 130-33). But such differences in the can be explained adequately in several ways (Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 286-87).
1. Jesus may have used different versions of sayings or parables at different times. It would be wrong to think that every piece of teaching material in the synoptic was uttered only once. Rather, Jesus and his disciples made use of the synoptic tradition numerous times and so it is possible that different versions of a particular tradition were remembered or even memorized. Matthew and Luke may draw upon their knowledge of other versions of the traditions found in Mark, which means that differences among the synoptic gospels may be accounted for not simply as literary redaction but as the conflation of different versions of a tradition.
2. Many of the differences in the triple tradition result from the changes made to Mark by the authors of Matthew and Luke. The only differences that can be said to have existed in the oral tradition or the smaller, written collections are those in the Passion and Resurrection Narratives (Mark-Matthew; Luke; John), those between Matthew and Luke in the double tradition and those in the doublets found in the triple and double tradition. Many of these, however,could likewise be ascribed to the redactional activity of the gospel writers, who made alterations to oral tradition or the short, written collections of material. Surely, since the authors of Matthew and Luke make such changes to the pericopes of Mark's gospel, the four gospel writers could easily make changes to other sources of gospel tradition when composing their gospels. (We should note, however, that in the synoptic gospels, there tends to be far greater agreement in the words of Jesus.)
3. Differences between parallel pericopes in the gospel tradition in Greek could be the result of simultaneous translations into Greek of oral tradition originally formulated in Aramaic (see Gerhardsson, The Origins of the Gospel Traditions, 82; E.E. Ellis, "New Directions in Form Criticism, 308) (Ellis proposes that the need to translate into Greek could have been the occasion for the creation of written collections of pericopes.) Different Greek translations of the originally Aramaic gospel tradition would have circulated orally or in written form in the churches. Possibly Matthew and Luke may have had access to different Greek versions of the same non-Markan pericope, however this was available to them; this could easily explain why the agreement in the double tradition varies so greatly.
4. Differences between parallel pericopes in the gospel tradition may be the result of what Gerhardsson calls "interpretive adaptations" (The Origins of the Gospel Traditions, 85). He proposes that some minor changes were made to the gospel of tradition in for the purposes of clarification for a specific audience. This could have occured during the oral period when the traditions were being told and retold.
The forms of the gospel tradition correspond to typical sociological settings (Sitzen-im-Leben) in the early church. That is, for every religious need there is a corresponding form appropriate to meet that need. This assumption allows Bultmann an other form critics to identify those typical sociological settings from analyzing the forms of the gospel tradition. (M. Dibelius prefers to adopt what he calls the synthetic method: working from the setting to the corresponding form.)
This assumption of a one to one correspondence of form to typical sociological setting (Sitzen-im-Leben) is too simplistic. Several important qualifications must be made:
1. Forms may have had multiple uses or religious needs may have been met by many forms. Evidence of this is that the form critics cannot agree among themselves concerning the use to which the forms of the gospel tradition were put. Dibelius explains the origin of the "paradigms" as arising form the need for sermon illustrations. Bultmann, on the other hand, divides the "apophthegms" into three types and assigns a separate Sitz-im-Leben to each. It seems clear that it is impossible conclusively to say how each form related to the religious needs of the early church (Sanders, Studying the Synoptic Gospels, 136).
2. Contrary to the view of many form critics, there is no such thing as a pure form, from which deviations occur during the transmission process; the idea of a pure form is an ideal construct. It is preferable to say that there are formal similarities among pericopes, which justifies their being grouped together under a common heading. But to assume that every pericope began as formally pure and over the years deviated from this original purity in the process of transmission is untenable; this is circular argumentation. (A prime example of the circularity of this methodology is how form critics deal with Mark 2:3-12; since it has the characteristics of both a pronouncement story and a miracle story, it is asserted that this pericope is the result of the combining of two separate pericope, each being originally formally pure [see Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition, 66-68 or the result of the formal alteration of a miracle story, so that elements of a Pronouncement Story were introduced [see Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 63].) This is especially true of narratives, since they had their origins in real events: reality is not always so stereotyped. It is probable that the narrative material evolved towards its particular form. But even Jesus' teaching material need not have been originally formally "pure." This makes tradition-history much more difficult, because one cannot assume from the outset that any deviation of a pericope from its form is the result of subsequent changes to it in the history of its transmission. (See Sanders, Studying the Synoptic Gospels, 127) For example, B. Mack wrongly assumes that a Pronouncement Stories ("Chreia") began as a saying set in a simple narrative context and that, when placed into a larger literary context (as in the Gospel of Mark), it underwent elaboration (A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins, 184-92). There is no necessity that the pure form of the Pronouncement Story would evolve through being elaborated, as Mack suggests. It is just as likely that the alleged elaborated form was the original.
There are laws or tendencies according to which the gospel tradition changed. Knowing these laws enables one to reconstruct the history of the tradition. That there are such hard-and-fast laws has been rightly disputed (E. Sanders, The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition). It has also been questioned whether the types of changes that occur in oral transmission of tradition are similar enough to those that occur during the written transmission of texts. This is an important question because it is from the study of texts that Bultmann and other form critics derive their laws according to which the gospel tradition changed and evolved (see E. Güttgemanns, Candid Questions Concerning Gospel Form Criticism, 196-211; W. Kelber, The Oral and Written Gospel, 14-32). This makes tradition-history much more difficult, in not impossible.
It has been many generations since the Gospel of John has been admitted as a source for historical reconstruction equal to the synoptic gospels. Beginning with D. F. Strauss's Das Leben Jesu, the consensus has emerged that the gospel of John has questionable historical value (with a few possible exceptions). Nevertheless, the evidence points to the conclusion that the Gospel of John originates with the apostle John the son of Zebedee, which means that it has a prima facie claim to historical reliability, since John was an eyewitness (see Morris, "The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel," in Studies in the Fourth Gospel, 218-92).
Unlike the synoptic gospels, there is internal, direct evidence for the authorship of the Gospel of John:
In the postscript of the gosel, "the disciple whom Jesus loved" is said to be the one who witnessed to these things and who wrote these things (21:24); he is, in other words, not only the author but the authority standing behind the gospel. The disciple whom Jesus loved is said to be the one who leaned back on Jesus' breast to talk to Jesus during the meal (see below for more details).
The author identifies "the disciple whom he [Jesus] loved" (egapa) as the one whose testimony is true and worthy of belief. When Jesus was dying on the cross, around him stood four women and one man, identified as the one whom Jesus loved (19:25-27). Later, the author affirms that the testimony of the man who witnessed Jesus' death is true (19:35). This man most likely is "the disciple whom he [Jesus] loved" mentioned earlier, since he is the only man present at Jesus' crucifixion.
The two individuals referred to in John 19:35 and 21:24 are no doubt the same, since they bear the same designation, "the disciple whom Jesus loved." If it is possible to put a name to this man, then the author of the Gospel of John can be identified. There are two other references to "the disciple whom Jesus loved" in the Gospel of John. Unfortunately, neither allows us to identify this individual by name.
1. John 13:23-25
The one whom Jesus loved reclined at the breast of Jesus, i.e., in front of Jesus, and leaned back to speak to him, presumably so as to speak to Jesus discreetly; this person was not Peter, nor was it Judas. Incidentally, the description of the disciple whom Jesus loved as reclining "on Jesus' breast (13:23) and who leaned back on Jesus' breast at the supper to talk to him refers to the fact that this disciple was sharing a triclinium (couch on which two or three people reclined to eat) with Jesus and was positioned behind Jesus on the triclinium; thus he was reclining in front of Jesus "at his breast," so that to talk to Jesus discreetly he would be forced to lean backwards "on his breast." There may have been another disciple behind Jesus on the same triclinium, but this one is not identified.
2. John 21:2-7
The one whom Jesus loved was one of the disciples, who went fishing with Peter. These were Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.
3. In John 20:2-5, 8, there is a reference to "the one whom Jesus loved." But the verb used is different from that used in the other references (philein, not agapan). Assuming that this phrase denotes "the disciple whom Jesus loved," then the author ran with Peter to Jesus' empty tomb, arriving there before Peter. But again this individual is not given a name.
All that can be determined about the identity of "the disciple whom Jesus loved" is that he is not Peter, since he speaks to Peter (13:24; 21:7) and accompanies Peter (20:2-6). It should be added that, since in 20:2 the designation "the one whom Jesus loved" is set in apposition with "the other disciple" (ho allos mathêtês), it is possible that the reference to "another disciple" in 18:15-16 could be a self-designation of the author. If so, then the author was known to the high priest.
In conclusion, we can speculate that the following took place: the author wrote the gospel designating himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," but refrained from identifying this disciple by name in any of the narratives in which he appeared. His original readership presumably knew his identity, but an editor, concerned that there might be some future readers who would not know the connection between the author and "the disciple whom Jesus loved," added 21:24 and 19:35 to ensure that this connection was made explicit in the text. It seems that the editor did this in order that the readers might know that the author was an eyewitness to the events described, thereby rendering the accounts credible.
There is some internal, indirect evidence to consider with respect to the authorship of the Gospel of John (see B. F. Westcott, The Gospel according to St. John)
A. The author is familiar with the geographical features of Palestine
1. He is familiar with Galilee, Samaria and Judea (see 1:28 [11:1]; 2:1, 12; 3:23; 4:20; 11:54; 12:21).
2. He is also familiar with the city of Jerusalem (see 5:2; 9:7; 11:18; 18:1, 28; 19:17) and the Temple (2:14, 20; 8:2, 20; 10:23).
The fact that he possesses this type of knowledge suggests that the author was a Palestinian Jew, who had frequented these places.
B. The author is acquainted with the social and religious conditions of Palestine (see 4:9; 7:35; 11:49; 18:13, 28, 31, 39). This suggests that the author was a resident of Palestine.
C. The author is acquainted with how Jewish feasts were celebrated at the Temple and with purification rites: Passover (2:13, 23; 6:4; 13:1; 18:28); Tabernacles (7:2, 37); Dedication (10:22); Purification rites (2:6; 3:25; 11:55; 18:28; 19:31). This suggests that the author was a Palestinian Jew.
D. The author is familiar with Jewish and Samaritan religious beliefs (see 1:41, 46; 4:9, 25; 6:15). This suggests that he was Palestinian.
E. The author seems to have been an eyewitness to the events that he is describing; this is debatable, but the general impression is that the accounts derive from an eyewitness (see 1:29, 35, 39; 7:14; 11:6; 12:1; 13:1-2; 19:14, 31; 20:1, 19, 26)
F. The author has a good knowledge of the apostolic group (see 2:11, 17; 4:27, 33; 6:19, 60-61; 16:17; 20:25; 21:3, 7). This suggests that the author was an apostle or at least close to the apostles.
G. The author seems to have written his gospel in Aramaic or a very Semitic type of Greek (see C. F. Burney, The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel; C. C. Torrey, "The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel," HTR 16 (1923): 305-44; J. de Zwaan, "John Wrote in Aramaic," JBL 57 (1938): 155-57. Concerning the details relating to the Aramaic/Semitic features of the gospel there is much dispute; the following is a list of those grammatical features of John that most scholars agree suggest that the text is translated Aramaic or bears the influence of an author who thought in Aramaic but wrote in Greek:
1. Transliterated Aramaic words (1:38, 41, 42; 4:25; 9:7; 11:16; 19:13, 17; 20:16; 21:2)
2. Parataxis: the joining together of main clauses with "and" (kai), corresponding to the waw-consecutive construction in Aramaic/Hebrew (see 9:6-7)
3. Asundeton construction: the lack of co-ordinating conjunctions between clauses; they are simply laid side by side (see, for example, 4:6, 7)
4. Beginning sentences with verbs (not seen in English translation) It is standard feature of Hebrew/Aramaic to begin a sentence with a verb.
5. Excessive use of the Greek conjunctions hoti and hina, which corresponds to the frequent use of the Aramaic de as a conjunction.
6. The exceptional simplicity of the Greek and the limitations of its vocabulary
These data suggest that the author's mother tongue was not Greek, but Aramaic.
The external evidence identifies John the son of Zebedee as the author of the Gospel of John.
A. In his rebuttal of Autolycus, Theophilos of Antioch c. 181 attributed the Gospel of John to John, by whom he no doubt meant the apostle John, the son of Zebedee.
B. Irenaeus (130-c. 200) identifies John the apostle, the son of Zebedee, as the author of the Gospel of John.
1. Eusebius quotes two passages from Irenaeus’s Against Heresies (Adv. Haer. 2.22.5; 3.3.4) to prove that John, the disciple of the Lord, resided in Ephesus after Paul's death. Ireneaus says that John was a true witness (martus alêthês) of the apostolic tradition there; Eusebius identifies the John to whom Irenaeus refers as John the apostle and evangelist, the disciple whom Jesus loved (H.E. 3.23.3).
2. As Eusebius points out (H.E. 5.8.4), Irenaeus states that John, the disciple of the Lord, the one who reclined on Jesus' breast (ho kai epi to stethos autou anapeson), produced his gospel while living in Ephesus (H.E. 5.8.4; Adv. Haer. 3.3.4). Since he is identified in the Gospel of John as the one who reclined at Jesus' breast, "the disciple whom Jesus loved" must be John the disciple, the author of the Gospel of John.
3. The source for Irenaeus knowledge of the origins of the Gospel of John seems to be Polycarp (69-155), whom Irenaeus knew in his youth and who knew the apostles, including John. Polycarp is a bridge between the generation of the apostles and that of Irenaeus:
a. Eusebius quotes from a letter that Irenaeus wrote to Florinus; in which he states that he used to listen to Polycarp speak about what the apostles did and said, including John (H.E. 5.20.4-8)
b. As Eusebius points out (H.E. 4.14.1-8), Irenaeus claimed that Polycarp knew the apostles, was appointed bishop of Smyrna by the apostles and communicated what he had learned from the apostles to the younger generation. Irenaeus said that he saw (and presumably heard) Polycarp in his early youth (Adv. Haer. 3.3.4).
4. Some have disputed the accuracy of Irenaeus' claim that John the apostle, the son of Zebedee, wrote the fourth gospel, arguing that the gospel was written by another John who also resided in Ephesus. In H.E. 3.39.1-6, Eusebius rejects Irenaeus' assertion that Papias was "a hearer of John," meaning John the apostle, since Eusebius claims that he knows for a fact that Papias had no contact with the apostles. Immediately following, Eusebius quotes a passage from Papias wherein he makes mention of two Johns; Eusebius interprets this to mean that there were two John associated with Ephesus: John the apostle and a John referred to as the elder. (In Eusebius' view, the fact that there are two tombs in Ephesus bearing the name of John confirms his theory.) Combining these two data, some scholars have suggested that Irenaeus confused these two Johns, wrongly assuming that the John to whom Polycarp referred was John the apostle, when he was really John the elder. But, even assuming that Irenaeus was mistaken when he affirmed that Papias was a hearer of John the apostle, this argument is too conjectural to be convincing.
C. Other second-century sources confirm the Irenaeus' testimony to the Johannine authorship of the fourth gospel.
1. As quoted by Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria (150-c.215) wrote in his Hypotyposeis, "But that John last of all, conscious of the outward (lit. "bodily") facts that had been set forth in the gospels was urged on by his disciples, and, divinely moved by the Spirit, composed a spiritual gospel" (H.E. 6.14.7).
2. The Muratorian canon also attributes the gospel to John the apostle: "The fourth gospel is that of John, one of the disciples....When his fellow-disciples and bishops exhorted him, he said, 'Fast with me for three days from today, and then let us relate to one another whatever may be revealed to each of us.' On the same night it was revealed to Andrew one of the apostles that John should narrate all things in his own name as they remembered them..."
5.1.4. The external evidence is unanimous that John the apostle wrote the gospel that bears his name; this is fully consistent with the internal evidence.
5.1.5. There have been other theories proposed regarding the authorship of the Gospel of John. As already mentioned, some attribute it to John the elder, allegedly a contemporary with John the apostle in Ephesus. J.N. Sanders argues that Lazarus wrote the fourth gospel ("Those Whom Jesus Loved" NTS 1 [1954/55]: 29-41). Pierson Parker claims that the evidence points to John Mark as the author ("John and John Mark," JBL 79 : 97-110). Oscar Cullmann argues that the author was an eyewitness, but not a Palestinian/orthodox Jew; rather he was a heterodox Jew with affinities with and sympathies for the Samaritans (The Johannine Circle). Rudolf Bultmann ignores all the internal and external evidence completely, arguing that the original author was a converted gnostic whose work was then later re-worked to make it more orthodox by the addition of sacramental and eschatological themes. Recently, M. Hengel has argued that the author was an otherwise unknown first-century Palestinian Jew named John, but not John the son of Zebedee (The Johannine Question).
One should not expect complete agreement between a text and a source or sources upon which it is dependent. But how many differences can be tolerated before one suspects that two texts are not literarily related at all? Apart from the Passion and Resurrection narratives, where one would expect significant agreement, John differs from the synoptic gospels in content, with some exceptions. But even in the parallels in the Passion and Resurrection narratives and in the few parallels outside of them, John and the synoptics diverge greatly in the details of their respective accounts. The question whether there is enough similarity to warrant the conclusion that John is literarily dependent on one or more the synoptic gospels has long been debated (for a catalogue of positions until 1974, see Teeple, The Literary Origin of the Gospel of John, chap. 6). (Few hold that the synoptics were literarily dependent on John.) There are two sorts of parallels between John and the synoptics to consider: Narrative and sayings material.
A. List of Possible Narrative Parallels
It should also be noted that there is one case of sharing a common order of pericopes in John and the synoptics; in each Jesus' walking on water follows his Feeding of five thousand.
B. In two of the cases of possible narrative parallels between John and the synoptics, it is doubtful whether the same event in Jesus' life is being depicted (Clearing of Temple; Healing of the Official's Son/Centurion's Servant). In cases of genuine parallels, there is insufficient agreement to justify postulating literary dependence: John's account of an event narrated in the synoptic gospels has too few parallels and insufficient verbatim agreement to support the claim that he used one or more of the synoptics as sources. In addition, John and the synoptic gospels differ in their accounts on important details, the presence or absence of which is difficult to explain on the hypothesis of literary dependency. The one instance of agreement of order of pericopes is insignificant, since the two traditions can be explained as belonging together in the tradition because this was the actual order of events.
A. List of Possible Sayings Parallels
B. Some of these possible sayings parallels are so dissimilar, that one cannot really equate the Johannine saying with its alleged parallel in one or more of the synoptics; they clearly are not two versions of the same saying (John 4:35 || Matt 9:37-38 = Luke 10:2 Harvest metaphor; John 10:1-15 || Luke 15:3-7 / Matt 18:12-14 Shepherd and sheep; John 10:14-15 || Matt 11:25-27 Hidden knowledge revealed; John 12:44-45 || Mark 9:37 = Matt 18:5 = Luke 9:48 / Matt 10:40 Receiving Jesus ). Similarly, although they both cite Isa 6:9-10, John and the synoptics do so different contexts (John 12:39-40 || Mark 4:12 = Matt 13:13 = Luke 8:10). The remaining possible sayings parallels arguably are the same sayings, but have insufficient verbatim agreement to support the hypothesis of literary dependence.
Since there is such little agreement between John and the synoptics, prima facie, it does not appear that John is literarily dependent on the synoptics. The only way that one could maintain that there is literary dependency would be to posit considerable redactional freedom on the part of the author of the Gospel of John. C. K. Barrett, for example, concedes that John did not make use of Mark in the way that Matthew did; rather he was much less tied to the Markan text for his outline and the contents of his gospel (The Gospel According to John, 42-54). Nevertheless, according to Barrett, the few instances of "verbal coincidence" between some of the parallels between John and Mark can only be accounted for by postulating an intermittent literary dependence or, at least, that the author of the fourth gospel had read Mark and "often—perhaps involuntarily—echoed Mark's phrases when writing about the same events" (45). (Barrett provides a list of the more striking "verbal coincidences" [44-45].) Barrett also believes that it is plausible that John knew and used Luke.
Earlier, B. F. Streeter argued that the author of the Gospel of John was not an eyewitness (contrary to all the evidence) but was a "Christocentric mystic," conscious of his own prophetic inspiration, who freely blended his own mystical insights with material from Mark and Luke (The Four Gospels: A Study in Origins, 363-463). The parallels between John and Mark noted above prove John's dependence on Mark. Streeter's conclusion that John used Luke rests principally on the fact that only in Luke are Mary and Martha mentioned (Luke 10:38) and the name Lazarus occurs (Luke 16:19-20). (This is a different Lazarus than the one in John). There are also a few minor parallels between John and Luke, according to Streeter, which justify his conclusion: John 20:3-5/Luke 24:12 Peter's visit to the tomb; John 20:36/Luke 24:36 Jesus' use of "Peace be with you" as a greeting; John 20:26-27/Luke 24:40 Jesus shows hands to Thomas (John) and Jesus shows his hands and feet (Luke). (For a another argument for John's dependence on Luke, see J. Bailey, The Traditions Common to the Gospels of Luke and John; F. Grant argues that John used Mark and Q traditions rather than Luke ["Was the Author of John Dependent on the Gospel of Luke?" JBL 55  285-307.)
It is obvious that any attempt to prove that John is literarily dependent on one or more of the synoptic gospels is tenuous to the point of being unbelievable. Such arguments tend to be circular. It is probably better to assume that there is no literary dependency. P. Gardner-Smith argued in 1938 that in all cases of alleged literary dependency on the synoptics, it is more feasible to hold that John derives his material from oral tradition (St. John and the Synoptic Gospels). This accounts for the occasional parallel between them and the far more numerous discrepancies. Gardner-Smith's aim was to consider "whether it is easier to account for the similarities between St. John and Synoptists without a theory of literary dependence, or to explain the discrepancies if such a theory has been accepted" (x). This position was re-asserted by C.H. Dodd in 1963 (Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel). Now neither Gardner-Smith nor Dodd believed that John the son of Zebedee wrote the fourth gospel. But if this is granted then it becomes even less probable that John is literarily dependent on the synoptic gospels, since its author would be an eyewitness. Arguably, John the apostle was aware of the existence of one or more of the synoptic gospels and these may have affected what he chose to include in his own gospel, but he did not use any the synoptic gospels as sources for his own (see Clement of Alexandria's explanation on the origin of John's gospel).
The evidence points to the conclusion that the Gospel of John should be accepted as a primary literary source of data on Jesus, contrary to critical opinion. The author is John the son of Zebedee, an eyewitness. How much John is dependent on his own memory or perhaps private notes and how much he relied upon more publicly accessible tradition is impossible to know. It seems, however, that the lack of similarity between John and the synoptics argues for a certain amount of independence from the more publicly accessible tradition. Thus, if he wrote in light of the synoptics, John's aim seems to be to supplement the synoptic portrayal of Jesus from private reminiscences and perhaps notes. In addition, it should be noted that John was heavily influenced in his own theological discourse by his distinctive portrayal of Jesus in his gospel. In his letters, John sounds very much like the Johannine Jesus. Nevertheless, as Reynolds pointed out long ago, there are differences between John and the Johannine letters because there are more than 145 words that occur on Jesus' lips in the gospel that are not found in the letters (The Gospel of John, 1.cxxiii-cxxv).
Redaction Criticism had its beginnings in Germany in the late 1940’s, but precursors to the application of method can be found among the works of earlier scholars. Most research on the historical Jesus since that time have includes a redactional-critical component as standard methodology. It has become an indispensable aspect of any study of the gospels or part thereof. Redaction Criticism, however, is highly questionable as a methodology.
The term Redaction Criticism (Redaktionsgeschichte) was coined by W. Marxen (Mark the Evangelist, 21) to denote the method whereby a researcher investigates how an editor or author expresses his (of her) theological outlook by means of the arrangement and editing of pre-existing traditional material. Traditional material is literally that which is handed on to the author, his sources, in whatever form these may have taken; these sources could include oral sources, written sources and complete gospels. The assumption is that some changes to the sources are theologically motivated, and, therefore, redactionally significant. Often these theological assertions that are redactionally woven into the gospel are subtlely and tacitly directed to a situation in the community that the author intends to address. N. Perrin defines the discipline of Redaction Criticism as the determination of "the theological motivation of an author as this is revealed in the collection, arrangement, editing and modification of traditional material, and in the composition of new material or the creation of new forms within the traditions of early Christianity" (What is Redaction Criticism, 1).
In the heyday of Form Criticism, it was assumed that the writers of the gospels were mere compilers of tradition; in writing their gospels they added nothing theologically significant to the formerly isolated units. With the advent of Redaction Criticism, however, this assumption was challenged: The gospel writers became authors in their own right, expressing their distinctive theological outlook by means of their redaction of the tradition. In his 1956 essay, "End-Expectation and Church in Matthew," Bornkamm explains, "The Synoptic writers show—all three and each in his own special way—by their editing and construction, by their selection, inclusion and omission, and not least by what at first sight appears an insignificant, but on closer examination is seem to be a characteristic treatment of the traditional material, that they are by no means mere collectors and handers-on of the tradition, but are also interpreters of it." Thus, as Marxen explains, there are actually three "settings in life" to be considered when interpreting the gospels. Not only must one distinguish the first setting in life of a (authentic) tradition deriving from Jesus’ ministry from the second setting in life, the use to which the early put this tradition, but must also distinguish both from a third setting in life: The situation of the writer of the gospels, who are as much authors as they are collectors of tradition.
Redaction Criticism assumes the results of Source Criticism and Form Criticism. First, before one can determine how a gospel writer handled his sources, one must determine what these sources were; this means that the redaction critic must adopt some theory of the nature of the literary relationship (or even lack thereof) of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and the relationship between one or more of the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John. If these literary determinations are wrong, then the whole redaction-critical enterprise will be flawed, since the sources that the redaction critic assumes were used by an author were not actually used. Second, Redaction Criticism assumes the form-critical premise that originally the tradition circulated as isolated and independent units and that they can be classified formally corresponding to a Sitz-im-Leben of the early church.
6.2.1. Detecting Redactional Aims
The redactional activity and contribution of a gospel writer will be detectable in several ways.
A. The traditions from the sources chosen to be included and excluded: The redaction critic determines what from the source(s) a gospel writer incorporates into his gospel, and then looks for patterns that will disclose a principle of selection. This principle of selection may be a clue to the theological interests of the gospel writer. It may be for theological reasons that Matthew or Luke, for example, omit a Markan tradition: The omitted tradition may be at odds with a theological emphasis adopted by the authors of Matthew and Luke. On the other hand, if Matthew includes material this may be a clue to his theological purpose
B. The arrangement of the material chosen from the sources: The redaction critic determines how a gospel writer either arranges previously disparate traditions or re-arranges material from his sources. The redaction critic looks for patterns in how a gospel writer arranges his material or makes changes to the arrangement of material from his sources; such patterns may reveal the author’s theological outlook. This arrangement is examined on a micro level, how the author changes the elements within an individual unit of tradition. The arrangement of tradition is also examined on a macro level, how the overall structure affects the meaning and significance of individual traditions. This is sometimes called Composition Critical Analysis, which is a sub-discipline of Redaction Criticism.
C. Significant additions or omissions to pericopes: The gospel writers make changes to the traditions that they use, adding to them or omitting portions of them (It is obvious that Matthew and Luke change their Markan source; there is little doubt Mark also made changes to his source(s) and that Matthew and Luke altered their non-Markan sources.) Not all changes to tradition are theologically motivated, but in some cases they may be. Again, patterns of changes where the same (or similar) idea is inserted or deleted increases the probability that this is a theological interest of the author.
D. The change in wording of the tradition: When it can be established that a gospel writer alters the wording of the tradition, one may explore the possibility that this change was redactionally motivated. The author changes the wording in order to make a theological point.
E. The "seams" used to join together units of traditional material: The gospel writers create transitions from one unit of tradition to another. What is said in these transitions may indicate the author’s theological interests and purposes.
6.2.2. It is important to stress that the redaction critic looks for patterns of changes in a particular gospel. A single change to a source can prove little, but if it can be shown that there is a pattern in the handling of the sources, that the changes reveal a prevailing theological intention, then it is probable that there change is redactional as opposed to stylistic or some other reason; in other words, one can rightly suspect that a theological motivation is behind changes.
6.2.3. Redaction Critics have usually insisted on the need to take into account the social history of the community in which the author of a gospel was writing in determining his redactional aims, especially the history of conflict between the community and other groups and conflict within the group. Many redactional aims are not only theological but also sociological in the sense that the author attempts to oppose one social construction with another. In its extreme forms, the practitioners of Redaction Criticism become reductionistic, so that all theological formulations are assumed to be tendentious, mere cloaks for social apologetic (expressions of "the will to power"). Thus what Redaction Critics attempt to do is reconstruct the social context in which a particular gospel was written (Marxen’s third "setting in life"), in order to understand more clearly the author’s purposes in writing; knowledge of the former helps in identifying the latter as they occur in the gospels.
6.2.4. The application of the methodology of Redaction Criticism will vary depending upon one’s view of the historical reliability of the traditions in the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John. The conservative application of the redaction-critical method takes as its point of departure the assumption that the gospel tradition is historically reliable; on this assumption, the researcher will search for the redactional aims of a gospel writer while holding to the historically reliability of the gospel tradition. In such cases, never will it be suggested that the author falsifies history in the expression of his redactional aims. Those who do not adopt the assumption of the historical reliability of the gospel tradition, however, are free to conclude that in any given case the author may have created gospel traditions or historically falsified existing tradition to suit his redactional purposes. (In some cases, such researchers may also conclude that the gospel writer adopts already unhistorical traditions for redactional purposes.) In extreme cases, a Redaction Critic may conclude that little of what a evangelist wrote reflects historical reality, but rather primarily provides insight into the social history of the author’s community.
Scholars have been doing Redaction Criticism long before it was identified as such. When, for example, they have taken note of the Jewishness of the Gospel of Matthew or Luke’s stress on prayer or the Holy Spirit, scholars have been practitioners of Redaction Criticism. In general, however, Redaction Criticism as it has been practiced since its inception as a distinct methodology for studying the gospels has not been content with such simple and obvious conclusions. Rather they have sought more elaborate conclusions about the redaction aims of the gospel writers. In my opinion, Redaction Criticism as it is practiced since its inception is minimally valid; most redaction-critical studies verge on complete speculation and are without much profit. Reasons for the rejection of this methodology are as follows:
6.3.1. Redaction Criticism is wrongly optimistic about being able distinguish tradition from redaction. The separation of these two is only unproblematic (and even then not fully) in the case of Matthew and Luke’s use of Mark (the triple tradition). Generally, however, there is insufficient knowledge of the history of the gospel tradition to be able to distinguish tradition from redaction. The attempt to identify from the "summary statements" (Sammelberichte) the Markan style and preferred vocabulary founders on the facts that one cannot be sure that these portions of Mark are from the redactor and that the sample is too small anyway to compile such statistics.
6.3.2. Redaction Criticism wrongly assumes the assumptions and results of Form Criticism, some of which, as already indicated, are questionable. Again, such scholars claim to know more than they ought about the early history of the gospel tradition.
6.3.3. Redaction Criticism wrongly assumes that many or even most changes that the gospel writers made to the tradition are significant, and are not stylistic or even accidental. Without sufficient evidence, however, one cannot assume that such changes must be theologically motivated, and most of the time there is insufficient evidence. Moreover, it is difficult to believe that a gospel writer could conceive and execute such elaborate literary projects as redaction critics propose.
6.3.4. Redaction Criticism wrongly assumes that the early church would be able to recognize the redactional point(s) of the author. In many cases, the reconstructed redactional point(s) is so obscure, recondite and even convoluted that it would be lost on the average hearer or reader of any era. (It is usually left to the scholar to explain what the gospel writer had in mind.) It is difficult to believe that he would think that such subtle and indirect theological assertion would be effective.
6.3.5. Redaction Criticism often wrongly adopts a very skeptical view of the historical Jesus that allows them to suppose that the redactors were free and loose with the tradition, molding it to serve their interests. As already indicated, it is better to assume a conservative handling of the tradition, so that the gospel writers did not feel free to adapt at will the tradition to the needs arising from their setting in life (Sitz-im-Leben).
6.3.6. Redaction Criticism wrongly assumes a detailed knowledge of the setting in life of the writer and his community. Not enough is known of this early period of the church to draw such conclusions. In many cases, the reconstructed setting in life is without evidence, so that it is common to find contradictory reconstructions proposed.
6.3.7. Redaction Criticism wrongly dismisses information about the conditions of the production of the gospel provided by the early church fathers in favor of highly speculative theories that hang by a thread.