June 15, 2010

Form Criticism vs. 'Gospel History'

Modern Biblical Criticism has long noted literary and theological patterns in all four cannonical Gospels. In fact, there's no question about it. These patterns DO seem to account for some part of the rationale for how content was arranged in each Gospel narrative. Some, that is, but certainly not all.

If it can be shown (and it can) that each Gospel writer blended together a mixture of directives - BOTH historical/chronological AND literary/theological - in deciding how to arrange narrative content... then the next questions are whether we can identify very much historical sequence of events in Gospel narrative and is there enough to proceed towards reconstructing those event chains from each narrative(?).

If the Gospels were merely stories with theological impetus, they would not have cared so much about facts (people, places) and hinging their narratives on dynamic, game-changing moments. However, since the Gospel writers seem to have brought a mixture of aims to their task, then we should be at least as justified in reconstructing a historical account of Jesus' life as we are in constructing theologies from Jesus' words.

9 comments:

T.C. R said...

Yes, but where do we begin, if not with the canonical Gospels - the best sources for our reconstruction.

Bill said...

What? I completely agree that we ought to begin with the four canonical Gospels. Where did I seem not to, TC?

mike fox said...

great thoughts, bill. i wonder if we don't even have to make a strong distinction between history/chronology and literature/theology. i'm content describing OT history as "theological history," a tag that i hope emphasizes the importance of both. again, great thoughts as usual. take care.

Bill said...

Mike, I'm not an OT guy, but I'm at a complete loss as to how one could have 'theological chronology' or 'literarily historical' events. But I may not understand what you mean.

If by 'Theological History' you mean God centered history, then fine. But that to me is called 'History'. :-)

T.C. R said...

Bill, my friend, I was simply restating the obvious. I'm not challenging your solid evangelicalism. ;-)

Bill said...

Oh. I get it now. Thanks, TC! :-)

mike fox said...

thanks for entertaining the notion that i might have something complex going on in my head, but alas, i probably do not. with, say, OT history, i simply mean that we have a historical narrative that is put together/redacted in such a way that it's loaded with theology. Samuel, Kings, to be specific, is a narrative. it's a story with common themes and a rhetorical strategy (i.e. it shows that idolatry is bad, and that good prophets do it the way moses did it). but its pericopae are historical account that are woven together.

so, in my mind you "literarily historical" phrase might be perfect lol. someone has gathered historical accounts and woven them into a story, a work of literature that teaches quite a bit about God. that's how i read the gospels as well.

Bill said...

"someone has gathered historical accounts and woven them into a story, a work of literature that teaches quite a bit about God"

I'd go with that. I just want to extract the historical parts and put them back together... ALSO.

Thanks for the ongoing conversation(s), Mike.

mike fox said...

yes i, too, believe the historical accounts in the bible are to be used for the larger endeavor of historical reconstruction

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