With this post I am returning to my discussion of methods available for studying the Gospels. I will devote probably three posts to a method that I call the “comparative method.” Like the other two methods I’ve discussed (the literary-historical method and redaction criticism) this method is not *at all* concerned with establishing what really happened in the life of Jesus. It is a method meant to help one understand a Gospel as a piece of literature, to see what its *portrayal* of Jesus is.

In my textbook on the New Testament I show how the method works by applying it to the Gospel of Luke. It could obviously be used for any of the Gospels – or for any other literature, for that matter. Here is how I describe it in the book, in relation to the method that it most resembles, redaction criticism (remember: in redaction criticism one sees how an author has changed his source – by what he has added, deleted, or altered – so as to determine what his overarching concerns are; and so you can see how Luke and / or Matthew have changed Mark, since they used Mark as a source)


The Comparative Method and the Gospel of Luke

Perhaps the best way to explain how the comparative method works is to point out two problems that recent scholars have found with redaction criticism. The first is that examining how a redactor has changed a source will not necessarily give you a complete account of what he or she considered to be important. This is because the redactor has actually made two kinds of decisions: not only about what to change but also about what to keep. Sometimes it is just as important to know what an author has decided to leave intact as to know what he or she has decided to alter.

This is a valid objection to redaction criticism as it is sometimes practiced, which is why I earlier stressed that seeing the alterations that authors have made in their sources can only serve as a short cut to understanding their distinctive emphases. A complete redactional analysis would need to consider, in detail, both the similarities and the differences of the texts in question. As we will see, this is true of the comparative method as well.


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