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Redaction Criticism of the Gospels

  In a previous post I explained why scholars have long held to "Markan Priority," the view that Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke both used it for constructing their own narratives.   One great pay-off for this conclusion (it really is significant) is that it is possible, given this result, to see how Matthew and Luke have each *modified* Mark in the stories they received from him.  This approach is called "redaction criticism."  A "redactor" is an editor.  Redaction criticism looks at the editing decisions made by an editor of a source. Years ago I described the method and gave an illustration of how it worked on the blog, in part to show that finding the differences between the Gospels is not necessarily a *negative* thing, but can have very *positive* results for interpreting the message each one has.  This is what I said then: ********************************************************************* I have stressed that knowing that there are differences, even discrepancies, among the Gospels does not need to be considered in a purely negative [...]

The Next Step: Redaction Criticism

In this breezy overview of New Testament scholarship that I’ve been giving, from roughly the 18th century till today (!) I have talked about textual criticism (establishing what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote based on the surviving manuscripts), source criticism (determining what the written sources of the New Testament were – especially the Gospels, and most especially the Synoptic Gospels), Life of Jesus research (up to Albert Schweitzer’s day), and finally form criticism (the interest in establishing the formal characteristics of the oral traditions of Jesus in circulation before the Gospels were written down). In some respects, form criticism put the final nail in the coffin of historical Jesus research, a coffin fashioned by Wrede and Schweitzer. If the stories about Jesus, even in our earliest Gospels, are not accounts of what happened but narratives that were formulated by communities of Christians after his death (as the form critics assumed), well, there’s not much source material left if we want to reconstruct the life of Jesus. And so a lot of scholars [...]

More on John from a Redactional Perspective

In the previous post I started to give the evidence that the Gospel of John is based on previously existing sources (probably written – that it ultimately goes back to oral sources goes without saying) (even though I just said it). The argument for sources is a cumulative one, and in my judgment this third one clinches the deal. Again, from my textbook: ************************************************************** The two preceding arguments may not seem all that persuasive by themselves. The third kind of evidence, however, should give us pause. For it is the inconsistencies of John's narrative itself -- literary "seams," as they might be called -- that provide the strongest evidence that the author of John used several written sources when producing his account. (3) The Presence of Literary Seams. If I were to sew two pieces of cloth together, everyone would know. I am a lousy seamster, and the connections would be plain for the world to see. Some authors who splice their sources together are obvious as well, in that they don't cover up their [...]

2020-04-03T17:15:56-04:00March 18th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

John from a Redactional Perspective

In my previous post I asked whether many of you were getting tired of this discussion of methods of analysis, in relationship to the Gospel of John. Almost everyone who replied wanted me to continue, and so I do! I move on to the question of whether redaction criticism can be useful for studying the Fourth Gospel. This will take two posts. Again, I am drawing from my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction…. ********************************************************* The Gospel of John from a Redactional Perspective As we have seen in our earlier discussions, redaction criticism works to understand how an author has utilized his or her sources. Scholars have successfully used the method with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, where we can posit two sources with reasonable certainty (Mark and Q). The method is somewhat more tenuous in the case of the Fourth Gospel, since this author's sources are more difficult to reconstruct. Still, John must have derived his stories about Jesus from somewhere (assuming that he didn't make them all up). What sources, then, [...]

2020-04-03T17:16:46-04:00March 17th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

How To Study the Gospels

I’ve been speaking about the importance of the differences of the Gospels. So far I’ve argued that these show that each Gospel has to be read for the message that *it* is trying to convey; no one should assume that the message of one Gospel is the message of another, that the portraits of Jesus are the same among all the Gospels, that none of the differences matter for much of anything because they can all be reconciled. That is to miss out on a real opportunity of determining the message of each of these authors. I think that’s important. These are important books. Whether you’re a Christian or not, no one can much doubt that the New Testament is the most important book, historically and culturally, in the history of Western Civilization. Knowing what it’s authors have to say really matters. And if you wear blinders when trying to interpret these books, you’ll simply see what you’re programed to see. And that’s not good. In my last post I argued that one of the [...]

2020-04-03T17:20:32-04:00February 15th, 2014|Canonical Gospels, Teaching Christianity|

Differences in the Gospels and Redaction Criticism

In my previous two posts I stressed that knowing that there are differences, even discrepancies, among the Gospels does not need to be considered in a purely negative light. There are very serious positive pay-offs. These differences/discrepancies open up possibilities for interpretation, because they (in theory) prevent a person from importing a meaning into a text that is difficult to sustain from the words of the text itself. When John says that Jesus died on the day before the Passover meal was eaten, but Mark says that Jesus died on the day *after* the meal was eaten (both are quite explicit), then the interpreter’s energy really should not be taken up with showing that they both are saying the same thing. They are saying different things, and not recognizing this means failing to recognize what each Gospel is trying to say. In this particular case, John almost certainly is the one who changed the historical datum (although, OK, this is debated). It allows John to portray Jesus as the “lamb of God” who is killed, [...]

2020-04-03T17:20:41-04:00February 14th, 2014|Canonical Gospels|

Jesus Going to His Death in Luke

In previous posts I have given some of the reasons for thinking that Luke did not write the account of Jesus “sweating blood” in his prayer before his arrest. A lot more could obviously be said, but anyone who wants more can just look up the discussion in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. For the purposes of the blog, two BIG questions remain: why does Luke change Mark’s portrayal of Jesus going to his death so that now he is so clearly calm and collected? And why did later scribes change Luke’s portrayal by adding the two verses in question? I’ll answer the first question in this post and the next, the second in a third post in a couple of days. The first thing to stress is that Luke’s emphasis can be found not only in this passage but in others as well, as a redactional comparison with Mark shows (i.e., seeing what Luke has edited – or “redacted” -- in Mark’s version, by what he has added, omitted, and changed) FOR [...]

2020-04-03T19:24:09-04:00September 9th, 2012|Canonical Gospels, Reader’s Questions|

Problems with the NRSV (Part 5)

My problems with the NRSV continued - Part 5! Trust me, I eventually get back to the question of my relationship with Bruce Metzger. I keep getting sidetracked, but the tracks on the side are interesting.  At least I *think* they are!! In my last post, I pointed out that the famous passage of the so-called “bloody sweat” in Luke 22:43-44 is thought by some scholars not to have been original to the Gospel of Luke. I count myself in that number. Problems with the NRSV - The Bloody Sweat One of my very first scholarly articles was devoted to the question.  I wrote it when I was a first-year graduate student – or rather, co-wrote it, with a friend of mine who was in the Ph.D. program at Princeton Seminary with me. A fellow named Mark Plunkett did a study of the passage of Jesus’ prayer before his arrest and realized something about the structure of the passage. In turn, I realized that if he was right, the two verses about the bloody sweat [...]

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