1. Selective Bibliography
2. Introduction
3. The Synoptic Gospels
   3.1. The Gospel of Mark
      3.1.1. Origin of the Gospel of Mark
         A. Papias
         B. Other External Evidence for Authorship
         C. Conclusion
   3.2. The Gospel of Mark as Source for Matthew and Luke
      3.2.1. Evidence for Markan Priority
      3.2.2. Minor Agreements as Problem for Hypothesis of Markan Priority
   3.3. Double Tradition
   3.4. The So-Called Special Lukan and Matthean Sources

4. The Gospel Tradition before the Synoptic Gospels
   4.1. The Oral Period
   4.2. Form Criticism
      4.2.1. Valid Formal-Critical Assumptions
         A. Isolated, Self-Contained Units of Gospel Tradition
         B. Gospel Traditions Classifiable according to Form
         C. Religious Needs
      4.2.2. Task of Form Criticism
      4.2.3. Invalid Form-Critical Assumptions
         A. Post-Easter Creation of Gospel Tradition
         B. Modelled on Transmission of Folk Traditions
         C. Setting-in-Life
         D. Laws of Transmission
5. The Gospel of John
   5.1.The Apostolic Origin of Gospel of John
      5.1.1. Internal, Direct Evidence
         A. John 21:20-24
         B. John 19:25-35
         C. Further Identification of Beloved Disciple?
         D. Summary
      5.1.2. Internal, Indirect Evidence
      5.1.3. External Evidence
   5.2. The Literary Independence of John from the Synoptic Gospels
      5.2.1. Possible Narrative Parallels Between John and the Synoptic Gospels
      5.2.2. Possible Sayings Parallels Between John and the Synoptics
      5.2.3. Evaluation of the Evidence
   5.3. Conclusion
6. Redaction Criticism
   6.1. Description of Redaction Criticism     
   6.2. Principles of Redaction Criticism
   6.3. Evaluation of Form Criticism
7. Barry D. Smith, "The Historical-Critical Method, Jesus Research and the Christian Scholar"



1. Selective Bibliography

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.

2. Introduction

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.

Some scholars hold that the Coptic Gospel of Thomas deserves to be included as a primary literary source, as opposed to being considered one of the so-called apocyphal gospels. The Gospel of Thomas, which is a translation of a Greek original, consists of 114 logia of Jesus. Whether the Gospel of Thomas is literarily dependent on one or more of the synoptic gospels is disputed. Nevertheless, even if the Gospel of Thomas is literarily independent of the synoptic gospels, relative to the synoptic gospels it is late, being a product of the second century; moreover, it is so influenced by second-century gnostic thought that its status as a primary literary source on Jesus is in question.  In other words, the early church's rejection of the Gospel of Thomas as canonical was for good reason (see J. P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, 114-39.) Nevertheless, it is also arguable that a saying of Jesus has been independently preserved in the Gospel of Thomas.

3. The Synoptic Gospels

3.1. The Gospel of Mark

3.1.1. Origin of the Gospel of Mark

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.

A. Papias

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:

"And the elder used to say this, Mark became Peter's interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had followed him, but later on, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord's oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them."

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.

Eusebius reports says the Papias was bishop of Hierapolis. The city is located in the Lycus river valley in Phrygia in the province of Asia; the city was twenty-two kms. away from Laodicea and near Colossae. In his account, Eusebius implicitly situates Papias during the reign of Trajan (98-117) (H.E. 3.36.1-2). The earliest witness to Papias is Irenaeus, who says that Papias was "a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, a man of primitive times," who produced a work in "five books" (Haer. 5.33.4). As indicated, Eusebius provides the title of Papias' work: Interpretations of the Sayings of the Lord (H.E. 3.39.1). According to Eusebius, in his work Papias relates some extra-canonical traditions, which Eusebius describes as "certain strange parables and teachings of the Savior, and some other more mythical things" (3.39.11). In fact, he considered Papias to be "a man of exceedingly small intelligence" because of his literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation concerning the thousand year reign of Christ on the earth (3.39.13). See W.R. Schoedel, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Fragments of Papias; ABD 5.140-42.

    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.

Copper Inkwell

This copper inkwell was found among the ruins at Qumran. It is now on display at the Amman Museum in Amman, Jordan. This inkwell once held the soot-based ink typically used in writing. It is possible that many of the Qumran manuscripts were copied on site by scribes living in the community.

B. 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.

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.

C.B. Mack has his own theory of the origin and nature of the Gospel of Mark (A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins). He assumes that little of the gospel tradition is historically reliable; only those traditions in which Jesus appears as a Cynic sage who offered table fellowship to the social outcasts may be admitted as historical data, since this is what Jesus actually was and did. According to Mack, the origin of the Gospel of Mark is at odds with the traditional view of it. The anonymous author of the gospel was a member of a particular "Jesus movement," the synagogue reform movement that attempted but failed to reform synagogal social structure along more egalitarian lines. During the crisis resulting from exclusion from the synagogue, the author wrote an apology for the existence of the reform movement to which he belonged; he did this by weaving together traditions taken from numerous other Jesus movements (Sayings from "Q," Pronouncment Stories, Miracle Stories) and the Christ cult (Christ as a divine being whose death was a martyrdom characteristic of Paul and his Hellenistic churches) to produce the Gospel of Mark. It is not surprising that the gospel contains some spiteful elements directed to the synagogues that rejected the author’s reform movement. Using "the logic of martyrdom" derived from the "myth of origin" of the Christ cult, the author blamed the Jews for the death of the innocent Jesus, which was really a rather thin veil for the accusation of the rejection of the reform movement, and interpreted Jesus’ death as a vicarious and effective event. Connected to this martyrological interpretation ("wisdom tale"), is the author’s apocalyptic framework, whereby Jesus would return to rescue the righteous (i.e., the reform movement) and to destroy the wicked (i.e., the membership of the Jewish synagogues). Mack claims the author Mark, a consummate theologian (albeit a resentful and vengeful one), not a mere compiler of traditions, wrote his gospel in southern Syria, contrary to all early church tradition of a Roman provenance. Suffice it to say that Mack's reconstruction is highly speculative.

C. Conclusion

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).

Information about (John) Mark is available from the New Testament (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37, 39; 2 Tim 4:11; Col 4:10; Philemon 24; 1 Pet 5:13). (John) Mark was probably a resident of Jerusalem, since his mother had a house in the city (Acts 12:12). He traveled with Paul and Barnabas from Jerusalem to Antioch (Acts 12:25), and then traveled with them on the first missionary journey (13:13). He left Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia (13:13; 15:37). Later, because Paul did not want to take him along on a second missionary journey, he traveled with Barnabas to Cyprus and other places (15:39). (John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas [Col 4:10].) (John) Mark is with Paul in Rome during Paul's first imprisonment in Rome (Philemon 24). During his second imprisonment, Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark to Rome (2 Tim 4:11). He is with Peter in Rome when he writes 1 Peter (5:13). There is a tradition cited by Eusebius that places Mark in Alexandria after he wrote his gospel (H.E. 2.16.1; 2.24.1). Whether this is true is difficult to determine.

3.2. The Gospel of Mark as a Source for Matthew and Luke

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.

3.2.1. Evidence for Markan Priority

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.

W. Farmer correctly points out that the two-gospel or Griesbach hypothesis (and the Augustinian hypothesis) explains better (or at least as well as?) the agreement in order among in triple tradition. He writes, "The problem of Markan order can be posed this way: It is as if Matthew and Luke each knew what the other was doing, and that each had agreed to support Mark whenever the other departed from Mark. Such concerted action is excluded by the adherents of Marcan priority in their insistence that Matthew and Luke were completely independent of one another" (Synoptic Problem, 213).  Matthew and Luke never agree in their departure from the Markan order, even though each departs frequently enough from that order; Farmer argues that it is improbable that Matthew and Luke would never coincidentally depart from the Markan order at the same time. If Mark is using Matthew and Luke as sources, however, then the phenomenon is explained on the hypothesis that, when Matthew and Luke differ in order in relation to the triple tradition, Mark sometimes follows the order of one and sometimes that of the other. (If Matthew and Luke agreed with each other in their departure from the Markan order, this would provide support for Farrer’s position that Luke used Matthew and Mark as sources.)  Nevertheless, in spite of the attractiveness of Farmer’s explanation, given all the evidence it seems better to hold that Matthew and Luke only coincidentally never depart from the Markan order at the same time; in fact, the probability is low that they would.

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.

The Griesbach or two-gospel hypothesis explains the phenomenon of verbatim agreement in the triple tradition and Mark’s being the middle term in the relationship between the three synoptic gospels by the fact that Mark sometimes chose to follow Matthew while at other times Luke. The minor agreements are explained as the result of Mark's choice to follow neither Matthew nor Luke. This is equally as possible, but the question is raised, however, is whether this is compatible with the other data relating to the triple tradition.

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.

It should be noted that the Griesbach or two-gospel hypothesis explains this phenomenon by assuming that Mark sometimes excludes material unique to either Matthew’s or Luke’s versions of pericopes from the triple tradition. That Mark would remove material from his Matthean or Lukan source seems less likely since a motive would be lacking.

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.

3.2.2. Minor Agreements as Problem with Hypothesis of Markan Priority

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.)

Oil Lamp from
the Herodian Period

This lamp, 4.3 cm (1 11/16 in.) high and 10 cm (4 in.) long, was found at Qumran in strata dated from the reign of Herod the Great (37-4 BCE). It is typical of lamps of that period. In the lamp's nozzle is the remnant of a palm-fiber wick.

3.3. Non-Markan Sources

3.3.1. Double Tradition

Luke 3:7-9 (1) = Matt 3:7b-10 (1)* The Baptist's preaching A
Luke 3:16b-17 (2) = Matt 3:11b-12 (2)* The Baptist's preaching B
Luke 4:2b-13 (3) = Matt 4:2b-11a (3)* Jesus' temptation
Luke 6:20-23 (4) = Matt 5:3-4, 6, 11-12 (4)* The Beatitudes
Luke 6:27-33 (5) = Matt 5:44, 39-42, 46-47 (9)* Love of enemies A
Luke 6:35b-36 (6) = Matt 5:45, 48 (10)* Love of Enemies B
Luke 6:37a, 38b (7) = Matt 7:1-2 (16)* On Judging A
Luke 6:39b,c (8) = Matt 15:14b (46) On Judging B
Luke 6:40 (9) = Matt 10:24-25a (29) Teacher and student
Luke 6:41-42 (10) = Matt 7:3-5 (17)* On Judging C
Luke 6:43-45 (11) = Matt 7:16-20 (20)*
(see Matt 12:33-35)
Test of Goodness
Luke 6:46-49 (12) = Matt 7:21, 24-27 (22)* Hearers and Doers of the Word
Luke 7:1b-10 (13) = Matt 8:5-10, 13 (23)* Cure of the Centurion's Servant
Luke 7:18-23 (14) = Matt 11:2-6 (35a)* The Baptist's Question
Luke 7:24-28 (15) = Matt 11:7-11 (35b)* Jesus' Testimony to the Baptist
Luke 7:31-35 (16) = Matt 11:16-19 (37)* Jesus' Judgment of His Generation
Luke 9:57-60 (17) = Matt 8:19-22 (25)* Three Would-be Followers
Luke 10:2-12 (18) = Matt 9:37-38; 10:7-16 (26-27)* Mission of the Seventy
Luke 10:13-15 (19) = Matt 11:21-23 (38)* Woes on Galilean Towns
Luke 10:16 (20) = Matt 10:40 (34)* Disciples as Representatives
Luke 10:21-22 (21) = Matt 11:25-27 (39)* Praise of the Father
Luke 10:23b-24 (22) = Matt 13:16-17 (43) Blessedness of the Disciples
Luke 11:2-4 (23) = Matt 6:9-13 (11) Lord's Prayer
Luke 11:9-13 (24) = Matt 7:7-11 (18) Efficacy of Prayer
Luke 11:14-23 (25) = Matt 12:22-30 (40)* Beelzebub Controversy
Luke 11:24-26 (26) = Matt 13:43-45 (45) Return of the Evil Spirit
Luke 11:29-32 (27) = Matt 12:38-42 (42)* Sign of Jonah
Luke 11:33 (28) = Matt 5:15 (6) Saying about Light
Luke 11:34-36 (29) = Matt 6:22-23 (13) Eye as Light of Body
Luke 11:39-40  (30) = Matt 23:25-26 (52)
23, 6-7
4, 29-30, 34-35, 13
Sayings against Pharisees
Luke 12:2-9 (31) = Matt 10:26-33 (30) Exhortation to Fearless Confessing
Luke 12:10 (32) = Matt 12:32 (41) The Holy Spirit A
Luke 12:11-12 (33) = Matt 10:19-20 (28) The Holy Spirit B
Luke 12:22b-31 (34) = Matt 6:25-33 (15) Worry About Earthy Things
Luke 12:33b-d, 34 (35) = Matt 6:19-21 (12) Treasure in Heaven
Luke 12:39-40, 42b-46 (36) = Matt 24:43-51 (58) Sayings on Vigilance and Faithfulness
Luke 12:51, 53 (37) = Matt 10:34-36 (31) Enigma of Jesus' Mission
Luke 12:58-59 (39) = Matt 5:25-26 (7b) Agreement with One's Opponents
Luke 13:18-21 (40) = Matt 13:31-33 (44) Parables of Mustard Seed and Yeast
Luke 13:24 (41) = Matt 7:13-14 (19) The Narrow Gate
Luke 13:25-27 (42) = Matt 7:22-23 (21, 59) Rejection at Last Judgment
Luke 13:28-29 (43) = Matt 8:11-12 (24) Coming into the Kingdom
Luke 13:34-35 (44) = Matt 23:37-39 (53) Lament over Jerusalem
Luke 14:16-21 (45) = Matt 22:2-10 (51) Parable of the Great Dinner
Luke 14:26-27 (46) = Matt 10:37-38 (32) Conditions of Discipleship
Luke 14:34-35 (47) = Matt 5:13 (5) Parable of Salt
Luke 15:4-7 (48) = Matt 18:12-14 (48) Parable of Lost Sheep
Luke 16:13 (49) = Matt 6:24 (14) Servants and Masters
Luke 16:16 (50) = Matt 11:12-13 (36) Law and the Kingdom
Luke 16:17 (51) = Matt 5:18 (7a)* Fulfilling the Law
Luke 16:18 (52) = Matt 5:32 (8)* On Divorce
Luke 17:3b-4 (53) = Matt 18:21-22 (49) On Forgiveness
Luke 17:5-6 (54) = Matt 17:20 (47) On Faith like a Mustard Seed
Luke 17:23-24 (55) = Matt 24:26-27 (54)* Days of the Son of Man A
Luke 17:26-27 (56) = Matt 24:37-38 (56)* Days of the Son of Man B
Luke 17:33 (57) = Matt 10:39 (33) Days of the Son of Man C
Luke 17:34-35 (58) = Matt 24:40-41 (57)* Days of the Son of Man D
Luke 17:37b (59) = Matt 25:28 (55)* Days of the Son of Man E
Luke 19:13, 15b-24, 26 (60) = Matt 25:14-30 (60)* Parable of the Minas

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.

J. Kloppenberg argues that the double tradition can be traced back to a carefully-constructed "Chriae Collection" (i.e., wisdom sayings of Jesus) that evolved to include other material, most notably judgment and apocalyptic sayings (The Formation of Q [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987; id. Excavating Q: The History and Setting of the Sayings Gospel, 2000). When the Q-source is "excavated" and allegedly it is discovered to have three strata: a sapiential layer composed of a Chriae Collection, six "wisdom speeches" (Q-1) and a second apocalyptic layer consisting of five judgment speeches (Q-2), all of which is then later revised (Q-3) This document is supposed to have circulated in the early church, and the traditions that it contained were eventually incorporated into Matthew and Luke. Kloppenberg’s proposal (and others like it) is highly conjectural, and in the end untenable. There is insufficient evidence for the existence of the Q-source, much less for its evolution as a document. In fact, what evidence exists suggests that there was no such document as Kloppenberg and others suppose. Rather, the authors of Matthew and Luke probably independently made use of non-Markan traditions; some of these traditions could have been contained in written collections of Jesus' sayings, while others may have been circulating as oral tradition. Beyond this general statement, nothing more can be said with any certainty.

    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.

It is possible that Matthew composed a collection of sayings originating circulating independently of one another. The earliest piece of external, direct evidence for the authorship of the Gospel of Matthew derives from Papias (60-130), as quoted by Eusebius. Papias makes the following obscure statement about the origin of the gospel (H.E. 3. 39. 16): "Matthew composed the sayings (logia) in the Hebrew language and everyone interpreted as he was able." It is not clear whether the word translated above as "sayings" (logia) mean that or "gospel"? That it could mean the latter is implied by Papias' use of the word in the title of his work, Interpretation of the Lord's Logia: it is arguable that Papias means "gospels" by logia. This is strengthened by the fact that Papias claimed that Mark made an arrangement of the logia of the Lord, the result of which is the Gospel of Mark. Clearly, the logia include not only what Jesus said but also what he did ("the things said or done by the Lord") (H.E. 3.39.15). Nevertheless, it is possible that Matthew compiled a collection of sayings, which later was incorporated into the Gospel of Matthew.

    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.

Appealing to "the principle of economy in explanation," some scholars reject the need of postulating the existence of the hypothetical document(s) or source(s) identified as Q, and prefer to account for the double tradition by assuming that the author Luke used Matthew as a source (No one holds that the author of Matthew used Luke) (see A. Farrer, "On Dispensing With Q," 58; M. Goulder, Midrash and Lexicon in Matthew; M. Goodacre, The Case Against Q). Farrer argues that only when the position that Luke used Matthew as a source is untenable, should one posit the existence of hypothetical texts or sources. This assumption is compatible with both the two-gospel or Griesbach hypothesis, the Augustinian hypothesis and the position represented by Farrer and Gould that Matthew used Mark as a source and Luke used both as sources. Nevertheless, the data do not support such a simple explanation, for the great range of verbatim agreement suggests that Luke is not using Matthew as a source. Why would Luke sometimes copy Matthew almost word for word sometimes, while at other times exercise such remarkable redactional liberty? Moreover, the fact that Luke would change so much the order of the double tradition as found in Matthew, his alleged source, when he so faithful to the order of the triple tradition in Mark, his other source, is difficult to explain, since this would mean that Luke would have two diametrically opposed methods of handling his sources. Against the postulation of Lukan dependence on Matthew, the more reasonable explanation is to assume that Matthew and Luke independently made use of other sources of tradition about Jesus.

    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.

It is sometimes claimed that the order of the double tradition in Luke most accurately reflects the original order of the pericopes in the Q-source, the hypothetical document assumed to be the source of the double tradition, whereas Matthew is supposed to have had little regard for the original order of this document. This allows one to explain why there is such little agreement in the order of the double tradition without calling into question the existence of a single document to which both Matthew and Luke had access. But the fact that there is substantial agreement in the order of the triple tradition but hardly any agreement in the order of the double tradition seems to preclude holding such a position, since a motive is lacking for Matthew to change so extensively the order of this hypothetical document when he does not handle his Markan source in this way. Even Matthew's tendency to combine his other sources with Markan material and the fact that the double tradition is composed largely of isolated sayings cannot explain the lack of a common order of the double tradition if it once existed as a single document: one would still expect to see more of a common order in the double tradition. Besides, it is questionable whether, even assuming that the Q-source really did exist, there is enough evidence to conclude that the order of the double tradition in Luke reflects the original order of the pericopes in that hypothetical document. Really, only Luke's tendency to keep his Markan and non-Markan sources separate would lead one to believe that he would retain the original order of the Q-source, but surely this is insufficient evidence to support such a conclusion (contrary to Streeter, "On the Original Order of Q," Oxford Studies in the Synoptic Problem). It must also be borne in mind that some of the pericopes in the double tradition chronologically belong earlier or later in relation to the Markan framework. It makes sense to place "The Baptist's preaching" and "Jesus' temptation" at the beginning and "Lament over Jerusalem" and "Days of the Son of Man" towards the end. This could account for some of the traces of a common order in the double tradition.

3.4. The So-Called Special Lukan and Matthean Sources

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.



How do the synoptic gospels relate to one another literarily? How does this affect the historian's use of them in the task of historical reconstruction?


4. The Gospel Tradition before the Synoptic Gospels

4.1. Oral Tradition

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,

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." (1 Cor 11:23-25).

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,

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles." (1 Cor 15:1-7).

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.)

The Greek historian Polybius valued hearing eyewitness testimony obtained by the interrogation (anakriseis) of the living witnesses over another type of hearing by which he meant reading aloud from written memoirs (hupomnêmata) (12.27). Likewise, Lucian of Samosta places a high value on eyewitness testimony as essential to the writing of history. He writes, "Facts are not to be collected haphazardly, but with careful, laborious, repeated investigation; when possible, a man should have been present and seen for himself; failing that, he should prefer the disinterested account, selecting the eyewitnesses least likely to diminish or magnify from partiality" (Hist. Conscr. 47). If the historian is not himself an eyewitness of the events written about then he should find eyewitnesses with a reputation for impartiality. Josephus also stresses the importance of being participant in the events written about or at least an eyewitness of them (Apion 1.55). This preference for eyewitness testimony is also evident in Papias' desire to acquire "the words of the elders" from those who followed them, even though he no doubt had access to at least some of the written gospels (see Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 21-30).

     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.)

4.2. Form Criticism

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.

4.2.1. Valid Formal-Critical Assumptions

The following valid methodological assumptions underlie the discipline of Form Criticism; these assumptions will influence how the synoptic tradition is used in historical reconstruction.

A. Isolated, Self-Contained Units of Gospel Tradition

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)

B. Gospel Traditions Classifiable according to Form

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.)

Paradigms Apophthegms 
1. Conflict 

2. Didactic 

3. Biographical
Pronouncement Stories
Novellen Miracle Stories Miracles Stories

1. Logia 

2. Prophetic and Apocalypic Sayings
3. Legal 
4. "I" 

5. Parables

Sayings and Parables
Legends Historical Stories Stories about Jesus
Myths Legends  

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

13 And they were bringing children to him so that he might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Permit the children to come to me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 "Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

ii. Mark 12:13-17

13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to him in order to trap him in a statement. 14 They came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are truthful and defer to no one; for you are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? 15 "Shall we pay or shall we not pay?" But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at." 16 They brought one. And he said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" And they said to him, "Caesar's." 17 And Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at him.

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

23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24 saying, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are -- the holy one of God!" 25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be quiet, and come out of him!" 26 Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him."

ii. Mark 1:29-31

29 And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon's mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. 31 And he came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.

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

14 And King Herod heard of it, for his name had become well known; and people were saying, "John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why these miraculous powers are at work in Him." 15 But others were saying, "He is Elijah." And others were saying, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." 16 But when Herod heard of it, he kept saying, "John, whom I beheaded, has risen!"

ii. Mark 9:2-10

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; 3 and his garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. 4 Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 6 For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. 7 Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is my beloved son, listen to him." 8 All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. 9 As they were coming down from the mountain, he gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the son of man rose from the dead. 10 They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant.

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.

C. Religious Needs

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.

4.2.2. Tasks of Form Criticism

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).

4.2.3. Invalid Form-Critical Assumptions

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.

A. Post-Easter Creation of Gospel Tradition

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.

B. Modelled on Transmission of Folk Traditions

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.

C. Setting-in-Life

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.

D. Laws of Transmission

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.


How does the fact that the synoptic tradition has its origin as oral tradition affect the use of the synoptic gospels in historical reconstruction? What are the valid and the invalid assumptions of form criticism?


Mount Gerizim

The Samaritans built a temple on the summit of Mt. Gerizim for the worhip of the biblical God, in rivalry to the Jerusalem Temple (Ant. 11.321-28). Later under the influence of Hellenism, they later rededicated it to Zeus (Ant. 12.257-64; 2 Macc 6:2). Taking advantage of the death of Antiochus VII, Hyrcanus destroyed the Samaritan temple, some two hundred years after its construction (Ant. 13.254-58). The Samaritans, however, continued to worship on Mt. Gerizim, even without a temple. The Samaritan woman said to Jesus, "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship" (John 4:19-20).


5. The Gospel of John

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).

5.1.The Apostolic Origin of Gospel of John

5.1.1. Internal, Direct Evidence

Unlike the synoptic gospels, there is internal, direct evidence for the authorship of the Gospel of John:

A. John 21:20-24

20 Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on his breast at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays you?" 21 So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" 22 Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me." 23 Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?" 24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

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).

B. John 19:25-35
25 Therefore the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus then saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son." 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." From that hour the disciple took her into his own household. 28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, "I am thirsty." 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to his mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished." And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 31 Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with him; 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.

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.

C. Further Identification of Beloved Disciple?

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

23 There was reclining on Jesus' breast, one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. 24 So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, "Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking." 25 He, leaning back thus on Jesus' breast, said to him, "Lord, who is it?"

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

2 Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will also come with you." They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 So Jesus said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered him, "No." 6 And he said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch." So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. 7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.

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.

D. Summary

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.

5.1.2. Internal, Indirect Evidence

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.

It was once thought by many that the Gospel of John was written well into the second century, but the discovery of a fragment of a copy of the Gospel of John, known as Rylands Papyrus 457, which is dated to no later than 150, suggests that the gospel was written earlier than the second century, since it would take some time for the gospel to have a wide circulation.

5.1.3. External Evidence

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.

You will say, then, to me: "You said that God ought not to be contained in a place, and how do you now say that He walked in Paradise? "Hear what I say. The God and Father, indeed, of all cannot be contained, and is not found in a place, for there is no place of His rest; but His Word, through whom He made all things, being His power and His wisdom, assuming the person of the Father and Lord of all, went to the garden in the person of God, and conversed with Adam. For the divine writing itself teaches us that Adam said that he had heard the voice. But what else is this voice but the Word of God, who is also His Son? Not as the poets and writers of myths talk of the sons of gods begotten from intercourse [with women], but as truth expounds, the Word, that always exists, residing within the heart of God. For before anything came into being He had Him as a counsellor, being His own mind and thought. But when God wished to make all that He determined on, He begot this Word, uttered, the first-born of all creation, not Himself being emptied of the Word [Reason], but having begotten Reason, and always conversing with His Reason. And hence the holy writings teach us, and all the spirit-bearing [inspired] men, one of whom, John, says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God," showing that at first God was alone, and the Word in Him. Then he says, "The Word was God; all things came into existence through Him; and apart from Him not one thing came into existence." The Word, then, being God, and being naturally produced from God, whenever the Father of the universe wills, He sends Him to any place; and He, coming, is both heard and seen, being sent by Him, and is found in a place. (Autol. 2. 22.)

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).

They, however, that they may establish their false opinion regarding that which is written, "to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord," maintain that He preached for one year only, and then suffered in the twelfth month. [In speaking thus], they are forgetful to their own disadvantage, destroying His whole work, and robbing Him of that age which is both more necessary and more honorable than any other; that more advanced age, I mean, during which also as a teacher He excelled all others. For how could He have had disciples, if He did not teach? And how could He have taught, unless He had reached the age of a Master? For when He came to be baptized, He had not yet completed His thirtieth year, but was beginning to be about thirty years of age (for thus Luke, who has mentioned His years, has expressed it: "Now Jesus was, as it were, beginning to be thirty years old," when He came to receive baptism); and, [according to these men, ] He preached only one year reckoning from His baptism. On completing His thirtieth year He suffered, being in fact still a young man, and who had by no means attained to advanced age. Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, even as the Gospel and all the elders testify; those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord, [affirming] that John conveyed to them that information. And he remained among them up to the times of Trajan. Some of them, moreover, saw not only John, but the other apostles also, and heard the very same account from them, and bear testimony as to the [validity of] the statement. Whom then should we rather believe? Whether such men as these, or Ptolemaeus, who never saw the apostles, and who never even in his dreams attained to the slightest trace of an apostle? (Adv. Haer. 2.22.5.)

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he remained [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,-a man who was of much greater weight, and a more steadfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles,-that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, "Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within." And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, "Do you know me? "I do know you, the first-born of Satan." Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, "A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sins, being condemned of himself." There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles. (Adv. Haer. 3.3.4.)

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.

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. 2 For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed "perfect knowledge," as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge: they departed to the ends of the earth, preaching the glad tidings of the good things [sent] from God to us, and proclaiming the peace of heaven to men, who indeed do all equally and individually possess the Gospel of God. Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews3 in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.  (Adv. Haer. 3.1.1.).

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 [1960]: 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).

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.  In his commentary on the Gospel of John, which appeared in 1941, Rudolf Bultmann claimed to be able to detect the existence of four distinct sources, the work of the writer, and the work of a later redactor. The four sources that formed the material out of which the writer composed his gospel were:

1. Prologue, which was of gnostic origin, since it depicts the descent of the heavenly redeemer; the author was an ex-gnostic.

2. Signs Source (Semeia-Quelle) made up of narrative reporting Jesus' miracles: This alleged "signs-source" is reconstructed from Bultmann’s commentary by D. M. Smith to have consisted of: 1:35-49; 2:1-12; 4:4-9, 16-19, 25-30, 40, 46, 47, 50-54; 6:1-3, 5, 7-13, 16-22, 25; 7:2-10; 5:2-15; 7:19-23; 9:1-3, 6-121, 24-28, 34-38; 10:40-42; 11:2, 3, 5-7, 11-19, 33, 34, 38-44; 12:37, 38; 20:30, 31. This source supposedly portrayed Jesus as a theios-aner, a miracle worker whose signs were intended to inspire faith in him. (The author of the Fourth Gospel tempers this thaumaturgic portrayal of Jesus by introducing criticisms of those who demand signs in order to believe [see John 4:48].)   Bultmann interprets the fact that in John two of Jesus’ "signs" are called his first and second (2:11; 4:54) to indicate that the author was drawing upon a signs source that presumably enumerated Jesus’ signs. There are, however, no further examples of enumerated signs in the Gospel of John.  According to Bultmann, the statement in 20:30 that Jesus did more "signs" than are recorded is the conclusion of the "Signs Source."

3. Revelation Discourse Source (Offenbarungsreden-Quelle) made up of isolated sayings of Jesus: According to Bultmann, the "Revelation Discourse Source" was a gnostic document in which are contained the sayings of a gnostic redeemer figure who brings salvation by bringing revelatory knowledge; this accounts for the assumed gnostic flavor of the teaching of the Johannine Jesus. This hypothetical source is reconstructed by D. M. Smith to have consisted of:  1:1-5, 9-12, 14, 16; 3:6, 8, 11-13, 18, 20, 21, 31-36; 7:37, 38; 4:13, 14, 23, 24; 6:27, 35, 48, 47, 44, 45, 37; 5:17, 19-21, 24-26; 11:25, 26; 5:30-32, 37, 39, 40; 7:16-18; 5:41-44; 8:14, 16, 19; 7:6, 7, 28, 29, 33, 34; 8:50, 54, 55, 43, 42, 44, 47, 45; 10:11, 12, 1-4, 8, 10, 14, 27-30, 9; 12:27-29, 31, 32; 8:31, 32, 34, 35, 38; 17:1, 4-6, 9-14, 16, 17, 20-23; 13:31, 32; 15:1-2, 4-6, 9, 10, 14, 18-20, 22, 24, 26; 16:8, 12-14, 16, 20-24, 28; 14:1-4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16-19, 26, 27; 18:37.  A feature of these sayings is the use of rhythmic forms, such as antithetical parallelism.

4. Passion Narrative: Bultmann holds that the author of the Gospel of John had access to a narrative relating Jesus' death and resurrection that was distinct from but related to the synoptic passion narratives.

These four major sources were taken up by the author (who was not John the apostle), and blended together to become the Gospel of John. The author weaved together the signs and discourse sources with the help of links supplied the author himself; to the signs/discourse portion of the gospel was added a Passion Narrative and the Prologue.  In Bultmann's view, somewhat later an editor interpolated material into the Gospel of John, and there were some transpositions of material (D. Moody Smith presents a careful summary and analysis of Bultmann's source theory (The Composition and Order of the Fourth Gospel, 1965].)

Bultmann's criteria for distinguishing these sources from one another were: 1. style (Stilkritik);  2. Ideological differences between sections;  3. Obvious interpolations and artificial connections between different types of material.

Bultmann's claim that the different types of material in the gospel differ from one another in style and therefore indicate that they originate from different sources has been scrutinized, with the result that his views turn out to be unacceptable. Rather, based on stylistic criteria, one must conclude that the Gospel of John is a literary unity. In reaction to Bultmann’s work on the Gospel of John, E. Ruckstuhl demonstrated that there was a literary consistency in the gospel (Die literarische Einheit des Johannesevangelium, 1951); he did this by identifying a set of fifty distinctly Johannine literary characteristics and demonstrating that these could be found scattered more or less evenly throughout the gospel. This is the opposite of what one would expect if John had used sources, since each source would have its own distinctive style. (E. Schweizer anticipated Ruckstuhl's work in his Ego Eimi: Die religionsgeschichtliche Bedeutung der johanneischen Bildreden, zugleich ein Beitrag zur Quellenfrage des vierten Evangeliums, 1939.)  As P. Parker puts it, "It looks as though, if the author of the fourth Gospel used documentary sources, he wrote them all himself" ("Two Editions of John," JBL 65 (1956) 304).

Most have accepted Ruckstuhl's conclusion, but in recent years there have been criticisms of Ruckstuhl's method and attempts to demonstrate anew the existence of different sources in John's gospel. In particular, many attempt to salvage Bultmann’s hypothesis of a "Signs Source" underlying the Gospel of John. These attempts include: Robert Fortna, The Gospel of Signs: A Reconstruction of the Narrative Source Underlying the Fourth Gospel; W. Nicol, The Semeia in the Fourth Gospel—Tradition and Redaction; Howard Teeple, The Literary Origin of the Gospel of John. These arguments are not incredibly convincing, and do not even agree with one another in their results (which is a sign that something is wrong). The attempts to discern the alleged sources used in John tend to be circular: variations in vocabulary and syntactical features are assumed to be evidence of different sources. What is assumed wrongly is that such variations are not compatible with single authorship (see J. A. T. Robinson, The Priority of John, 10-23).

In conclusion, since he was an eyewitness and did not need sources, and there are no obvious indicators that he used sources, it follows that John probably wrote his gospel without written sources, unless he wrote them himself. If he did use written sources, these are unrecoverable. To quote, B. F. Streeter, who wrote before the appearance of Bultmann’s commentaty on John, "For if the sources have undergone anything like the amount of amplification, excision, rearrangement and adaptation which the theory postulates, the critic’s pretense that he can unravel the process is grotesque. As well to hope to start with a string of sausages and reconstruct the pig" (The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins, 377).

5.2. The Literary Independence of John from the Synoptic Gospels

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.

5.2.1. Possible Narrative Parallels Between John and the Synoptic Gospels

A. List of Possible Narrative Parallels

John 1:32 / Mark 1:10 = Matt 3:16 = Luke 3:22 The Spirit as a dove coming upon Jesus
John 2:13-22 / Mark 11:15-19 = Matt 21:12-17 = Luke 19:45-48 Clearing of the Temple
John 4:46-54 / Matt 8:5-10, 13 = Luke 7:1b-10 Healing of the Official's Son/Centurion's Servant
John 6:1-15 / Mark 6:32-44 = Matt 14:13-21 = Luke 9:10b-17 Feeding of the five thousand
John 6:16-21 / Mark 6:45-52 = Matt 14:22-33 Walking on water
John 12:1-8 / Mark 14:3-9 = Matt 26:6-13 / Luke 7:36-50 Anointing (at Bethany)
John 12:12-19 / Mark 11:1-10 = Matt 21:1-9 = Luke 19:28-40 Royal Entry into Jerusalem
John 13:21-30 / Mark 14:18-21 = Matt 26:21-25 / Luke 22:21-22 Identification of betrayer
John 13:36-38 / Mark 14:27-31 = Matt 26:31-35 / Luke 22:31-34 Prediction of Peter's denial

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.

5.2.2. Possible Sayings Parallels Between John and the Synoptics

A. List of Possible Sayings Parallels

John 4:35 / Matt 9:37-38 = Luke 10:2 Harvest metaphor
John 4:44 / Mark 6:4 = Matt 13:57 / Luke 4:24 Prophet without honor
John 5:29 / Matt 25:46 Final judgment
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 12:25 / Mark 8:35 = Matt 16:25 = Luke 9:24 Life lost and gained
John 12:39-40 / Mark 4:12 = Matt 13:13 = Luke 8:10 Quotation of Isa 6:9-10
John 12:44-45 / Mark 9:37 = Matt 18:5 = Luke 9:48 / Matt 10:40 Receiving Jesus
John 13:16 / Matt 10:24 (see Luke 6:40) Servant not greater than master

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.

5.2.3. Evaluation of the Evidence

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 [1936] 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).

5.3. Conclusion

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).


How should the historian use the Gospel of John in conjunction with the synoptic gospels in reconstruction the life of Jesus?


Aramaic Fragments of 1 Enoch

Fragments of portions of the text now known as 1 Enoch were discovered at Qumran. Column Two (lines 12-14) of 4QEna (4Q201) represents the original Aramaic text of 1 Enoch 5:12-14 and column three (lines 13-16) is the original Aramaic of 1 Enoch 7:1-2.

The first four books of the New Testament are identified as "gospels" (Gk to euaggelion = good news). As a literary classification, "gospel" is post-New Testament. Originally the term denoted the content of the apostolic preaching; only later did it come to refer to the literary works that we know as gospels. (We use the term in both ways today.)  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" derive from the original oral "gospel." Presumably, these four literary works share a common literary genre, since they bear the same name. But what is a gospel?

Although there are some similarities between them and Greco-Roman biographies, the four canonical gospels are literarily unique in the ancient world, being sui generis (see L. Hurtado, "Gospel (Genre)," Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels [eds. J. Green, S. McKnight, and I. H. Marshall; Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1992] 276-82). The gospels have in common with Greco-Roman biography that they are an account of the words and deeds of an individual, in this case, Jesus. But what distinguishes a gospel from all other literature is that it is the kerygmatic record of the words and deeds of Jesus; they are different enough from ancient biography to be classified as a unique genre, contrary to D. Aune, who prefers to classify the gospel as a distinctive-type of the genre of Greco-Roman biography (The New Testament in Its Literary Environment [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1987] 17-76). The words and deeds of Jesus are not simply recounted, as in Greco-Roman biography, in order to present the êthos of a person, his or her essence or manner of life. Rather, the concern is to present Jesus as the Messiah and his death and resurrection as part of his messianic calling. This is why a gospel must be defined as the kerygmatic record of the words and deeds of Jesus. Kerygmatic is an adjective derived from the noun kerygma, which is the Greek word meaning proclamation or preaching. In the New Testament, it denotes the content of the message that Jesus is the Messiah, the one anointed by God to bring eschatological salvation to Israel, rejected, crucified and vindicated by being raised from the dead (see Rom 16:25; 1Cor 1:21; 2:4; 15:14; 2 Tim 4:17; Titus 1:3). (In most cases, it seems that the noun kerygma is the functional equivalent of euaggelion.)  As already indicated, before there were written "gospels," there was the proclamation of the oral "gospel." To say that the gospel genre is the kerymatic record of the words and deeds of Jesus is to say that its ultimate purpose is to set down in writing the originally-oral proclamation of this kerygma.  In fact, the literary genre of the gospel could only have been produced in Jewish circles, because only there do we find the idea of the Messiah.  This fact invalidates the attempt to classify the gospels as a type of Greco-Roman biography.

The gospel genre could be described as a literature of fulfillment. Contained in the Old Testament is the promise of eschatological salvation, often associated with the appearance of an idealized Davidic king. The central premise of the gospels--and the New Testament generally--is that Jesus is this promised Davidic king and that through him is mediated the Kingdom of God; the gospels, in other words, are the literary by-product of the eschatological salvation of God. (Ironically, Jesus' rejection and death are also understood as fulfillments of God's promise of eschatological salvation; these are viewed as ordained by God and even foretold in scripture.) The numerous Old Testament texts said by Jesus or by the gospel writers to have been fulfilled in some aspect of Jesus' appearance most readily confirms the gospels' status as a literature of fulfillment. For example, Jesus quotes Isa 61:1-2 as having come to fulfillment in his appearance in history (Luke 4:16-21). Similarly, Jesus himself interprets his death in light of the destiny of the suffering servant (see Mark 10:45; Luke 22:37). Oscar Cullmann shows that the Gospel of John as narrative is full of salvation-history references, indicating that, in the author's opinion, the events outlined in the narrative happened in accordance with a salvation-historical timetable, as ordained by God (see John 1:17; 3:14; 7:6, 8; 8:56; 9:2-3; 18:32) ("L'évangile johannique et l'histoire du salut" NTS 11 [1964]: 111-122).

A convention of the gospel genre is a foundational irony underlying the depiction of the life of Jesus. As the Messiah, Jesus comes to the Jewish people, but ironically is rejected, which leads to his trial and crucifixion. Yet, contrary to expectation, Jesus is vindicated by God by being raised from the dead, with the result that, again ironically, his death and resurrection become the means of eschatological salvation not only for the Jews, but also for the nations.

6. Redaction Criticism

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.

6.1. Description of Redaction Criticism

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. Principles of Redaction Criticism

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.

6.3. Evaluation of Redaction Criticism

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.


What is Redaction Criticism and does it make any contribution to the reconstruction of the life of Jesus?


7. Barry D. Smith, "The Historical-Critical Method, Jesus Research and the Christian Scholar"