How Obvious is Development in the Gospels? A Few Brief Thoughts on Methodology

The idea that the Gospels comprise layers of development is widely accepted. Such is taken for granted in scholarly literature, is taught at most seminaries (perhaps all highly regarded seminaries), and is certainly taught in all courses on the New Testament at secular universities. As a result, the concept is often put forth in polemics against the Christian faith, though sometimes such is done in a rather uncareful fashion. This blog entry will seek to briefly bring a bit more nuance to at least certain kinds of charges of doctrinal development in the Gospels.[1]

***

A Non-Christian Thought Experiment

The problems with some of these ideas dawned on me more than a decade and a half ago, before I became a Christian —- back when I was still an atheist, in fact. When I was an undergrad, among my friends were two close friends whom I’d like to focus on, here, in particular. One was a philosophy major and the other was a communications major. The philosophy major was a great writer, very eloquent and verbose, and a bit of a mystical pantheist. Meanwhile the communications major was a great guy, but honestly didn’t seem to express a lot of deep thoughts, and his papers seemed to reveal he struggled to put together even a consistent paragraph.

Now, when I was an undergrad, I though it was plainly obvious that the Christology of John was a later development than the Christology in Mark. However, in a bit of a thought experiment, one day, I had imagined what it would be like if we (i.e. myself and the two friends just mentioned) concocted a new religion, and each of those friends wrote texts arguing for that religion. I very quickly concluded that the more eloquent, verbose, mystical, philosophically inclined friend would almost certainly produce something more cerebral and complex than the friend who wasn’t a particularly deep thinker, and this would be the case even if they wrote at the same time. Within that scenario, it would be a mistake to think the simpler text was older and the more complex text a much later development.

Now, as a disclaimer, I’m not saying that thought experiment reflects the fact of the matter with the Gospels (i.e. I’m not claiming, for example, that Mark was some sort of a dullard while John was a deep philosopher). I’m simply sharing how I realized nearly two decades ago that an apparent difference in depth or concepts between two texts does not entail a development over time from one to the other. As for what actually might be the explanation for the differences between the Gospels, I will get into that, later, below.

***

Can A High Christology Be An Old Christology?

For an example of how a conclusion of Christological development can be reached, consider a few widely accepted propositions:

(A) A fairly straight forward reading of the Gospel of John has Jesus depicted as a divine Person who took part in creation and who took on a human likeness.[2]

(B) Such is not found in Mark.

(C) John is later than Mark.[3]

In propositions (A) through (C), we have a later text apparently putting forth a much higher Christology than an earlier text, and many take this as a sign of Christological development over time. However, note two more propositions:

(D) Scholars are mostly agreed that Philippians and 1 Corinthians predate the Synoptics, and, while scholars are more divided on Colossians, there are still a number of scholars who treat that text too as authentically Pauline, and thus (perhaps tacitly) predating the Synoptics.[4]

(E) Philippians 2:5-7 can be understood as referring to Christ as a divine Person who took on a human likeness.[5] So too, 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Colossians 1:16 can be understood as referring to Christ as having a role in creation.

Taking into account propositions (D) and (E), it seems entirely plausible that some of the more “developed” Christological positions in John actually predate the Synoptics.[6]

***

How Might Differences Between The Gospels Be Explained?

If one were to propose that a high Christology existed for the entire period in which the four Gospels were composed, that would raise a question: how then does one explain the obvious difference between the Gospels in general, and between John and the Synoptics in particular? Why isn’t such a high Christology explicit in the Synoptics? Why does John have material found nowehere in the Synoptics?

One possible explanation is that each Gospel pulls small portions from a much larger spectrum of true tradition about Jesus[7], and the initial catechetical or pedagogical intentions for each Gospel determined what content was employed (as they could have initially been intended for audiences at different stages of development). The Greek Orthodox priest John Romanides stated such a position as follows:

[T]he Gospel of John has the mysteries as its basis and as its purpose the correlation of the historic life of Christ with the present mysterial life in Christ and experience of the community. When we take into account that the Christians carefully and systematically avoided all discussions of the deeper meaning of the mysteries, not only with the hostile outside world but even with the catechumens, then we are able to understand the use of the Gospels in the first Church, and many of the problems raised by biblical criticism are solved. Since the baptized Christians did not discuss the mysteries even with the catechumens, it is sufficiently clear that the fourth Gospel was used in the ancient Church for completing and finishing the catechism of the recently illumined, that is newly baptized. It was particularly suited to this purpose and distinguished from the other Gospels mainly because of its clear dogmatic, mysterial, and apologetical tone. We do not find in John the systematic preparation of catechumens for that is found in Matthew and Mark. This is why John does not begin with the baptism of Christ but with “In the beginning was the Logos…and the Logos was made flesh.[8]

Somewhat similarly, Joachim Jeremias argued[9] at length that there is evidence within the New Testament itself that different authors deliberately abstained from including deeper traditions in certain texts, out of concerm that such was not appropriate for the uninitiated. Jeremias also argues that such carefulness was common among both Jews and non-Jews in the ancient near east.[10]

Such a practice lasted for centuries among Christians, as, even in the fourth century, bishops in Alexandria expressed alarm at the fact that the deeper mysteries of the faith were being exposed to catechumens and non-believers, when they wrote:

They are not ashamed to parade the sacred mysteries before Catechumens, and worse than that, even before heathens: whereas, they ought to attend to what is written, ‘It is good to keep close the secret of a king;’ and as the Lord has charged us, ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before swine.’ We ought not then to parade the holy mysteries before the uninitiated, lest the heathen in their ignorance deride them, and the Catechumens being over-curious be offended.[11]

Therefore, it should not be any surprise that the aforementioned Father Romanides summed up the issue thusly:

The differences between the Synoptics and the Gospel of John, therefore, are not disagreements as many maintain. On the contrary, they clearly pertain to a difference in depth and fulfillment of the Synoptics by the fourth Gospel in accordance with the catechetical needs of the Church.[12]

***

Methodological Rules of Thumb

In closing (or summation), the reader is invited to keep in mind certain points when attempting to explore the subject of alleged development in the Gospels.

  • First, the relative dates of texts cannot be determined via their level of complexity or explicitly stated theology (i.e. it does not follow that a text which seems more “full throated” in its Christology has to be later than a text which apparently has less to say on the subject).
  • Second, a high Christology may very well predate the Synoptics.
  • Third, the authors of the Synoptics may have been of the mindset that deeper truths should be revealed in stages.
  • Fourth, and finally, attempts to discuss the alleged motivations of the Gospel writers regarding what content they included needs to also include discussion on their intentions and their understandings of their intended audiences.

By no means do I think this blog entry ends all debate; on the contrary, I think there remains considerable room for further discussion. But I suspect that if such points are taken into account, a more careful and nuanced approach to the subject can be taken.

***

NOTES:

(1) To be clear, this is not in reference to Christ’s disciples having an evolving understanding within their lives (e.g. believing one thing during Christ’s ministry, but having a different understanding after the first Pentecost after the Crucifixion, and perhaps continuing to grow after that). Rather, the focus will be on the idea of, for example, one New Testament text (e.g. the Gospel of Mark) having a primitive, low Christology, and another text (e.g. the Gospel of John) having a later developed, higher Christology.

(2) I realize there are some who seek to interpret the text differently, and that can be discussed, but for now I will move forward with this understanding.

(3) Or, put another way, Mark is the earliest of the four canonical Gospels while John is the latest of that set. This is not a position I am actually affirming; rather I think attempts to date the texts of the New Testament are invariably mired in speculation, so I am willing to take a position of agnosticism on such questions.

(4) Interestingly, even Dunn tentatively puts himself among those who are willing to treat Colossians as authentically Pauline; cf. James D.G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), p. 39-41.

(5) Similar to the case with John, I realize some try to interpret the text of Philippians differently. Nonetheless, I will move forward under the popular understanding. As Hurtado states, “[m]ost scholars take these verses to reflect a belief in the personal preexistence and incarnation of Christ.” [cf. Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 2003), p. 121].

(6) On an interesting side note, while this might be unpopular among Christians who adhere to a 66-book canon, it may be worth noting that some posit a connection between Matthew 27:39-41 and Wisdom 2:12-21 [the current Dean of the Lousiville Seminary even argued for a relationship between Mark and Wisdom; cf. Susan R. Garrett, The Temptations of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), pp. 68-69]. This has relevance, because if the Synoptic writers were familiar with that text, they plausibly were already familiar with a belief in a divine, personified Logos (as the all-powerful [παντοδυναμος] Logos of God leaps from the throne and stands on earth as a man, in Wisdom 18:15-16).

(7) This would be the implication of John 21:25. Separate from that text, note that there are apparently slightly over 18,300 words in the Greek text of Matthew, approximately 11,300 words in Mark, slightly under 19,500 words in Luke (putting the total for the Synoptics at just under 50,000 words), and slightly over 15,600 words in the John. Only a portion of those words are quoting Jesus, and even without such numbers, those familiar with the text know that one could read all the words attributed to Jesus in the Synoptics or John in a matter of hours. Therefore, in the spirit of John 21:25, these corpora of quotations must only reflect a small fraction of what would have been said over the course of a multiple-years long ministry. With such in mind, the argument of E.P. Sanders (in The Historical Figure of Jesus, (London: 1993), p. 70), against the idea that the Synoptics and John were each conveying “50 per cent” of Christ’s teaching, constitutes an attack on a straw man.

(8) John S. Romanides, The Ancestral Sin, (Glen Rock, NJ: Zephyr, 2002), pp. 72-73.

(9) Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, (Oxford, 1955), pp. 73-86.

(10) Separate from Jeremias’ argument, I would propose that allusions to this sort of concern can be seen at various points in Mark. For example, in Mark 1:40-45, we are shown that one point of keeping aspects of Jesus’ deeds (and what they reveal about Him) secret is such has a direct effect on the trajectory (or unfolding?) of His ministry. In Mark 4:11-12, we see that there was a deliberate plan for many people to have an only partial sense of the truth. In Mark 9:9, we see that the embargoing of details was temporary, which is to say certain secrets would be revealed at a later time. In Mark 11:27-33, we see religious authorities trying to get Jesus to elaborate on His position, and Jesus subsequently using their own uncertainty as grounds for not being entirely explicit and forthcoming on the subject. Then the text immediately transitions from there to Jesus teaching those same authorities the parable of the vineyard, in Mark 12:1-9. In that parable, Jesus subtly depicts the Messiah as being above every prophet, and as God’s son in a unique sense. He could have just said that was His position, but instead He presented it to them in a parable (à la the aforementioned Mark 4:11-12). In the trial scene, in Mark 14:61-64, we see that once Jesus does speak openly about His own self-identity, those same authorities are nearly floored, and have apoplectic reactions. Ergo, it would seem His prior unwillingness to give them everything was not without good reason. The overall picture from Mark conveys to the reader the idea that the truth is slowly revealed, in pieces, at their appropriate times (à la Ecclesiastes 3:7), with deeper ideas being revealed at a later stage.

(11) The Encyclical Letter of the Council of Egypt, in Athanasius, Defence Against the Arians, part I, chapter 11, in Philip Schaff & Henry Wace (eds.), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, (New York: Cosimo, 2007), vol. IV, p. 106.

(12) Romanides, opere citato, p. 73, n. 18.

Advertisements


Categories: Bible

32 replies

    • Thank you, Paul. I will certainly take a look at the video, and share any thoughts I have (as such relates to this blog entry). However note that, due to the nature of my devices and the environments in which I use those devices, I often am unable to watch videos, so please forgive me if there is a bit of delay in me sharing my thoughts.

      Like

    • Greetings Paul

      So, as an addendum, I watched the video, and I honestly did not see how it was relevant to my blog entry. It seems a very basic intro to an intro level course, and doesn’t address any of the points explored in the blog entry.

      Or did you mean not just that video, but rather the entire 26-part playlist? If so, that would be over nineteen hours of material (perhaps you could point to a specific portion?).

      Like

  1. Thanks Denis. This is helpful.

    > Why isn’t such a high Christology explicit in the Synoptics?

    This was a helpful section. I would add, it seems to me that Mark demonstrates who Jesus is by what he does, while John records more of what Jesus said about his identity. Each in their own way, as you say.

    > Why does John have material found nowehere in the Synoptics?

    Again your comments are helpful. It is interesting to see how Johannine Matthew 11:25-30 is.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Why do the synoptics not record the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus if he said them? Why leave such amazing statements out?

      Liked by 2 people

    • Because he never said them.

      Like

    • “If Jesus said sayings of (I am) , how on the world could Q,M,L,Mark, Matthew, and Luke just forget to tell us about them”
      Dr. Bart Ehrman.

      BTW, I do not think sayings of ( I am) refer to Jesus’ deity in John’s gospel since John’s gospel is very clear who the(only) true God is.
      Also, let’s not forget Jesus’ methodology in the same gospel when he refuted jews. ” isn’t written in your law….”.
      However, the problem with christians that they read this gospel awkwardly. They dragged the most explicit verses which make sense with logic and go smoothly with the OT to be interpreted under other verses from another book and another author neglecting the historical fact that those books written independently in different times, or by using the ambiguous ones in the same book making no sense just to satisfy their nonsense trinity.

      Like

    • Greetings to Paul, Burhanuddin and `Abdullah

      ***

      Paul wrote:
      «Why do the synoptics not record the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus if he said them? Why leave such amazing statements out?»

      As we never met the men who composed the Gospels, and have no direct experience of the environment they were in, we cannot read their minds, so any attempted answer is going to be speculative. Nonetheless, in this very blog entry, I provided a framework for approaching the subject: the differences in material chosen likely reflects the author’s catechetical or pedagogical motivations, as well as their understanding of their initially intended audience, and what resources were available to that audience.

      I’m personally not a big fan of invoking the ‘I am’ statements, but, for the sake of argument, if they were intended as allusions to deeper mysteries of the faith, and the Gospels were intended for people at different stages of development, then it would be understandable for such to be restricted to the corpus more geared to more explicit statements regarding the deeper truths of the faith.

      But for more, see my response to Burhanuddin, below.

      ***

      Burhanuddin replied to Paul’s question thusly:
      «Because he never said them.»

      And how do you reach such a conclusion? While I await your answer, I suspect your line of reasoning works under the assumption that a claim about Jesus not found in the Synoptics, but found in a purportedly “later” text, is likely to be a later development, not something recording a historical event.

      If that is in fact your line of reasoning, I would note that the Synoptics likewise do not include the story about Jesus speaking while still an infant (a story found in the Qur’an). I suspect that you would agree with me the silence of the Synoptics on that story need not entail that the story is therefore unhistorical.

      Either way, see the seventh endnote of the blog entry. The Synoptics put forth a small fraction of what was undoubtedly a much larger spectrum of tradition about Jesus. Whether we are talking about the ‘I am’ sayings or the story about Jesus speaking while still a baby, I don’t see what would be so implausible about such an element not being included in the fraction of tradition just mentioned.

      ***

      `Abdullah quoted:
      «“If Jesus said sayings of (I am) , how on the world could Q,M,L,Mark, Matthew, and Luke just forget to tell us about them”
      Dr. Bart Ehrman.»

      You posted this in the comments section of the blog entry Can God Sleep?. There I responded (and much of that response got incorporated into the blog entry above).

      Nonetheless, I will ask here: how can you positively assert what did not appear in Q, a hypothetical source which you have never examined directly?

      `Abdullah wrote:
      «I do not think sayings of ( I am) refer to Jesus’ deity»

      Okay. Do you consider any of them controversial (or expressing a high Christology) at all? If not, then what would be the big deal about other portions of the Christian corpora not including an apparently uncontroversial statement? However, if you still see within them a high Christology, refer back to the blog entry above (or even my responses to Paul and Burhanuddin, immediately above).

      Like

    • They express high christiology.

      I don’t know ,but I feel that your writings are just polemic.
      For wxample, why do you neglect the vivid divine nature of Quran,and why would you compare it to your bible and its nature?

      Like

  2. Are you saying that some of the writers of the NT tried to keep the “deeper mysteries” of the faith hidden from “catechumens and non-believers” which is why they are not obvious in their writings?

    Can you please clarify what these “deeper mysteries” are?

    If you mean the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, then would these be deeper mysteries or core basics?

    Like

    • Greetings Fawaz

      Fawaz asked:
      «Are you saying that some of the writers of the NT tried to keep the “deeper mysteries” of the faith hidden from “catechumens and non-believers” which is why they are not obvious in their writings?»

      Well, in the 10th end note of the blog entry, I explore how, for example, Mark touches several times on the idea of certain information only being for certain audience, and certain things being for specific times. I also quoted from the fourth century Encyclical Letter of the Council of Egypt, recorded by Athanasius, which showed that even at that later stage, Christians continued to be adverse to catechumens and nonbelievers having access to certain mysteries.

      While this doesn’t appear in the blog entry, I would add a remark by Origen, in book I, chapter 7, of his Contra Celsum; there he states that, on the one hand, “to speak of the Christian doctrine as a secret system, is altogether absurd,” but then he quickly adds “that there should be certain doctrines, not made known to the multitude, which are (revealed) after the exoteric ones have been taught, is not a peculiarity of Christianity alone, but also of philosophic systems, in which certain truths are exoteric and others esoteric.”

      From that spectrum, running across centuries, I think we see a pattern of concern about certain doctrines not being for everyone at every time (Mark has Christ Himself teaching such!). With that in mind, an easy possible explanation for differences in the Gospels could be that they reflected different catechetical or pedagogical motivations, for what were initially different intended audiences.

      Fawaz asked:
      «Can you please clarify what these “deeper mysteries” are?
      If you mean the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, then would these be deeper mysteries or core basics?»

      I just used the concept as a possible “general rule of thumb” for the differences between the texts. So it could, for example, apply (but not be limited) to material found in John but not the Synoptics. So, this could include statements about Christ putting forth a potentially Eucharistic teaching so difficult to grasp that some lost their faith (John 6:35-66), or existing before Abraham (Jn 1:1-14, 8:58, 17:5), or having a role in creation (Jn 1:3), or teaching a kind of equality with God (Jn 5:18), et cetera. [Though I would add that I don’t believe these texts were simply handed to each person for them to figure out on their own; rather I would assume each was part of a still larger catechetical and ecclesiastical structure.]

      Like

  3. Quite a disappointment I saw this a little too late (even the author has discontinued engaging commentators). I have got questions by the tons on this style of argumentation. My fantastic friend who holds unto such a view failed to give convincing replies. ” I will read more and address your concerns” were his final words on the subject.

    Like

    • Greetings Chocoboy

      (By the way, forgive me for asking, but I’m curious: why such a choice of “pen [or typing] name”? [I often wonder why people contributing to this blog don’t simply use their actual names].)

      Chocoboy wrote:
      «I saw this a little too late (even the author has discontinued engaging commentators).»

      Not necessarily. 😉 Though my time is limited, so I may take breaks for the various correspondences here (and there are other threads awaiting response from me).

      Chocoboy wrote:
      «I have got questions by the tons»

      Well I cannot answer tons of questions all at once, but maybe start with one or two, and after we discuss those, we can move on to others you may have, in an ongoing correspondence? I only ask that such questions attempt to engage the blog entry.

      Chocoboy wrote:
      «My fantastic friend who holds unto such a view failed to give convincing replies.»

      Could you elaborate on what, above, you would like to see me address?

      Chocoboy wrote:
      «” I will read more and address your concerns” were his final words on the subject.»

      I gave a reply like that to a 40+ minute video recommendation, as my ability to watch videos is very limited.

      Like

  4. ““If Jesus said sayings of (I am) , how on the world could Q,M,L,Mark, Matthew, and Luke just forget to tell us about them”
    Dr. Bart Ehrman. ”

    What a silly non-argument. He doesn’t fool me. I have wasted any of my money on his books either.

    Like

    • To be fair I would say we can have profound disagreements with a person on some issues and yet see value in their work elsewhere. I have long been a fan of Ehrman’s work (for example his translation of the Didache for the Loeb Classical Library). I disagree with Ehrman on a number of points, but I still respect him as a human being, and see him as being a person of value. Beyond that, I still respect swaths of his scholarship.

      Like

    • But Q, M, L are just speculations about non-existent documents. They don’t exist; they are a guess; a theory, a speculation.

      Mark 6:50 / Matthew 14:27(also in John 6:20), where Jesus walks on water – has an “I am” statement; and in Matthew 14:33 the disciples in the boat worship Jesus and say “You are certainly the Son of God!”.

      Earlier, in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8, when Jesus calmed the storm on the sea, they were marveling and asked, “What kind of a man is this, that the wind and waves obey His voice?”

      After the “I am” statement in the Synoptics, the theme continues in John –
      The first Johannine I am” statement after that (Mark 6:50, Matthew 14:27, John 6:20) is John 6:35 – “I am the bread of life”.

      Since John is an eyewitness and “the disciple that Jesus loved” and part of His inner circle (Peter, James, John), and John’s gospel is structured around Jesus’ trips to Jerusalem for the 3 passovers (not focused in Galilee or Nazareth as much) (and other Jewish feasts – feast of Booths in John 7 and feast of Hanukkah in John 10:22) – John’s gospel reflects more private meetings with Jesus (especially the upper room discourse of John 13, 14, 15, 16, 17), and John’s gospel shows that the Holy Spirit will bring to their remembrance all things that He said and lead them into all the truth, etc. (John 14:26; John 16:12-13), and God’s purpose is to leave us with a complete historical and theological and truth record from 4 angles of the one historical reality that really happened, it is not hard to see why God supplied us with the more private details and the fuller theological significance of the eternal Son of God who can calm a storm and command wind and waves and walk on the water.

      Samuel Green’s comment is good:
      I would add, it seems to me that Mark demonstrates who Jesus is by what he does, while John records more of what Jesus said about his identity.

      Mark is writing for Peter, who is a man of action (study the use of the word “immediately”, “suddenly” in the Gospel of Mark) – so the purpose of Mark is to show who Jesus is by His actions (healings, miracles, power over demons).

      Like

  5. Denis,
    This final summary was very good:

    First, the relative dates of texts cannot be determined via their level of complexity or explicitly stated theology (i.e. it does not follow that a text which seems more “full throated” in its Christology has to be later than a text which apparently has less to say on the subject).
    Second, a high Christology may very well predate the Synoptics.
    Third, the authors of the Synoptics may have been of the mindset that deeper truths should be revealed in stages.
    Fourth, and finally, attempts to discuss the alleged motivations of the Gospel writers regarding what content they included needs to also include discussion on their intentions and their understandings of their intended audiences.

    Excellent points !!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is also excellent !
    Good work, Denis.
    Sorry I was late in noticing this post.

    I very quickly concluded that the more eloquent, verbose, mystical, philosophically inclined friend would almost certainly produce something more cerebral and complex than the friend who wasn’t a particularly deep thinker, and this would be the case even if they wrote at the same time. Within that scenario, it would be a mistake to think the simpler text was older and the more complex text a much later development.

    The differences between Mark vs. John may just reflect Peter and Mark’s more action oriented personalities; and John’s more quiet thoughtful personality.

    Like

    • the two gospels present Jesus saying and teaching very different things. Are both equally historical?

      The verdict of virtually all biblical scholars (conservative & liberal): No!

      Like

    • and yet your Holy book and religion rejects the historical event that has the most details and is in all 4 gospels – the arrest, trials, suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and empty tomb/ resurrection of Jesus Al Masih – the cross events that all historical research and all scholars, even liberals that you promote – everyone – (except for fringe people who deny Jesus existed or one like Robert Price).

      And you reject one of the main earliest teachings from the oldest synoptics – substitutionary ransom atonement – Mark 10:45 / matthew 20:28; Mark 14:24/ Matthew 26:28 . !!

      Your arguments backfire on you and defeat Islam, since Mark & Matthew affirms the substitutionary ransom atonement of Christ.

      Like

    • On the subject of Mark and John…

      Paul wrote:
      «the two gospels present Jesus saying and teaching very different things. Are both equally historical?
      The verdict of virtually all biblical scholars (conservative & liberal): No!»

      Indeed, but at this point, at least in the comments of this blog entry (which explores this very subject), I would hope that we would explore arguments rather than a mere appeal to scholars. How does one go about measuring how historical either Mark or John might be?

      Like

    • Denis I did not ‘appeal to scholars’ but noted what scholars have long observed:

      the two gospels present Jesus saying and teaching very different things. Are both equally historical?

      Do you have an answer?

      My view is that John is largely fictional, for reasons I am sure you are familiar with as you have read some books by scholars i believe.

      Like

    • Greetings Paul

      Okay, my apologies, and thanks for the correction. If we are not merely appealing to scholars, can we agree that it is best to focus on arguments? That a conclusion is not true simply by virtue of scholars embracing it?

      Yes, there are a number of differences between Mark and John. Precisely that subject is explored in this blog entry. I continue to be interested in your thoughts on the points made in the blog entry (in particular the four points in the last section [the “methodological rules of thumb”]).

      As for whether Mark and John are “equally historical,” it is an assumption of my faith that they are. However, I am willing to set that aside for the sake of argument and explore arguments which attempt to demonstrate such not being the case. I invite you, or others interested, to explore the subject with me.

      As for your view that John is “largely fictional,” yes, I am familiar with it, and have been familiar with it for years. But the question remains: via what methodology does one measure the degree to which John is allegedly fictional?

      Like

    • two complementary stories of history of the life of Jesus that have many of the same elements:
      John the Baptist’s preaching
      repentance
      preaching
      miracles
      power over nature
      healings
      Jesus walking on the water
      feeding of 5 thousand
      arrest
      trials
      crucifixion
      death
      empty tomb

      Like

    • the differences between M and J are so stark and well known – how do you account for them historically?

      It is very difficult to see how they can both be accurate and reliable accounts of the same person.

      So given your a priori assumption that Mark and John are “equally historical,” the ball is in your court to provide a credible historical account.

      The Roman Catholic scholars I have read certainly do not agree with you that John is reliable historically in its portrayal of Jesus.

      Like

    • Greetings Paul

      Paul wrote:
      «the differences between M and J are so stark and well known – how do you account for them historically?»

      I feel I provided a framework for doing such in this very blog entry. Keeping in mind (a) John 21:25, (b) the size of the Gospels, and (c) the various trends pointing towards a tendency at times to embargo information from certain persons at certain times, I would say that Mark and John both put forth fragments of a much larger spectrum of traditions. The differences could reflect what were initially different catechetical and pedagogical motivations, as well as understandings about the originally intended audiences (e.g. what resources that audience had, what resources they would have, et cetera).

      Paul wrote:
      «It is very difficult to see how they can both be accurate and reliable accounts of the same person.»

      Why? Mind you, I address that very subject in the blog entry above, but I would be curious if you could state why you feel the differences preclude both being accurate.

      Paul wrote:
      «The Roman Catholic scholars I have read certainly do not agree with you that John is reliable historically in its portrayal of Jesus.»

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but we’re not merely appealing to scholars, correct? Indeed, there are many modern Catholic scholars who would take a view different from my own. But the real question is about arguments and methodology, is it not? If you would like to explore the arguments of a particular scholar, I’m happy to do so.

      Looking forward to your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

    • On Mark and John – giving more details and different details about the same basic historical events ( 3 and 1/2 years of Jesus ministry) does not mean they contradict one another.

      The problem for Islam is that both have the
      arrest
      trials
      crucifixion
      death
      empty tomb

      so both Mark and John defeated Islam.

      Like

  7. I grew up in a very liberal United Methodist church that believed the same kinds of things that Paul Williams promotes here (they quoted Bultmann, Paul Tillick, and Karl Barth more) – I never heard any kind of true Biblical teaching on the gospel at all; and when I was older, wondered why they even played church, since I found out later that the pastors really did not believe in the Bible or Christ at all, except as some kind of idea that was nice. (“be good”, “love your neighbor”, “peace, no war”, “feed the poor” – those were the themes I heard more about growing up in the dead liberal church. I remember the liberal pastor even saying that the people were good people (never preached that we are sinners and that we need to repent) and that “the Holy Spirit was like a bowl of fresh strawberries” – I will never forget that and how stupid I thought that was.

    I remember when a true Evangelical guy (part of the hippy Jesus movement of the 70s – he wore John Lennon type glasses, long hair, played guitar) witnessed to me and heard the gospel for the first time and I grew for about 3 years before even hearing about “God the Son” and the doctrine of the Trinity. I remember knowing about Jesus as Savior from sin and the Son of God, but the first time I heard “God the Son” was probably 4 years later.

    As Luke uses the word where we get our term “catechism” from in Luke 1:4 in his purpose statement. “in order that you may know the certainty / truth of the words (plural – logown λογων ) that you have been taught.” ( “you have been taught” = katexethes = κατηχηθης , and he says that he got his information from eyewitnesses and servants of the Word (Logos) (Luke 1:2), then, based on a lot of Denis has written, it could be that Theophilus was already taught what the Gospel according to John says and that Luke’s purpose was to fill in the details, especially historical details and parables and details from Mary about the virgin birth that the catachumens did not learn yet.

    Like

    • “I grew up in a very liberal United Methodist church that believed the same kinds of things that Paul Williams promotes here (they quoted Bultmann, Paul Tillick, and Karl Barth more)”

      To my knowledge I have never quoted from these three scholars – ever. And it is sheer ignorance to classify Barth as a ‘liberal’ as a cursory acquaintance with his theology would make clear.

      Like

    • I don’t claim you quoted them, but I maintain that the basic thinking of Ehrman, etc. is from those guys who were some of the main influences of liberal and neo-Orthodoxy in the 1960s-1970s, who were developing the older stuff from F. C. Bauer, Walter Bauer and Schleirmacker, etc.

      The folks you quote (Ehrman, Dunn, Tuckett, and some aspects of others like N. T. Wright, and some aspects of what Richard Bauckham writes – though he is good in many ways) and John Dominic Crossan, Robert Funk, Marcus Borg, – all built upon the older guys like Bultmann and Tillick and Barth – (and F. C. Bauer, Walter Bauer, Schleirmacher, etc.)

      Like

    • Barth was what is called ” neo-Orthodox”, and I greatly respect his stance against Hitler in the 1930s, but later, the more details I find out, he was just a softer form of liberalism.

      Carl F. Henry, editor of Christianity Today, had a news conference with Karl Barth in the 1960s reveals just how liberal Karl Barth was, because the way he responded to Henry shows he really did not believe in the historical reality of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead:

      Carl F.H. Henry recalls in his autobiography the time he engaged Karl Barth during a news conference:

      “Identifying myself as ‘Carl Henry, editor of Christianity Today,’ I continued: ‘The question, Dr. Barth, concerns the historical factuality of the resurrection of Jesus.’ I pointed to the press table and noted the presence of leading religion editors or reporters representing United Press, Religious News Services, Washington Post, Washington Star and other media. If these journalists had their present duties in the time of Jesus, I asked, was the resurrection of such a nature that covering some aspect of it would have fallen into their area of responsibility? ‘Was it news,’ I asked, ‘in the sense that the man in the street understands news?’

      Barth became angry. Pointing at me, and recalling my identification, he asked: ‘Did you say Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?’ The audience – largely nonevangelical professors and clergy – roared with delight. When countered unexpectedly in this way, one often reaches for a Scripture verse. So I replied, assuredly out of biblical context, ‘Yesterday, today and forever.’”

      Carl F. H. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography (Waco: Word, 1986), 211.

      This reveals that Karl Barth really was a liberal, though he tried to save the Bible from the classic liberalism with his “neo-Orthodoxy” movement which said the word of God is not the word of God until it becomes an existential feeling of experience in the heart and mind – then it “becomes” the word of God to “me”. It totally guts the truth of the reality and history of it.

      Like

Please leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: