A Critique of the Fundamental Assumption of Form Criticism Part II -- By: Stanley N. Gundry
BSac 123:490 (Apr 66) p. 140
A Critique of the Fundamental Assumption of Form Criticism
The Impossibility of a Creative Community
The fundamental assumption of form criticism also involves the concept of a creative community, that is, the primitive Christian church supposedly exercised the power of creating and changing tradition about Jesus to suit its own needs. The arguments already presented concerning eyewitness evidence and the biographical interest of the early church also apply here, and in themselves preclude the possibility of a creative church. However, there are more reasons which indicate that the early church could not have exercised this creative power.
To the form critic Jesus is faint and remote. The method can only result in a very skeptical view of the possibility of really knowing much about Jesus. The community is supposedly alert and ready for every enterprise of corruption or creation.1 But could such have been the case? Sayings as striking and pointed as those preserved in the Gospels are not created by communities. It takes an individual to create a striking saying, and in this case that individual could only have been Jesus. Nor would the sayings have necessarily been taken over from Hellenistic or rabbinic sources and been put
BSac 123:490 (Apr 66) p. 141
into Jesus’ mouth. Even sayings of Jesus which may parallel sayings from other sources, according to the form critic, need not have come from those sources. Even great teachers may say familiar things.
The concept of a creative community must be construed as the figment of the form critic’s imagination. Such communities simply do not exist. Easton has well written: “It is easy enough to speak of the creation of sayings by a community, but the phrase is really meaningless. Communities do not create sayings; such creation comes from individuals and from individuals only. Communities may adapt and transmit sayings and may modify and standardize them in transmission, but the sayings themselves must first exist.”2
Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let it be supposed that the community did have the power of creating a tradition about Jesus, including sayings and stories about Him. If such were the case, where did the community get the power to select the best? That such selections would have had to have been made is evident from the consistency of the tradition presented in the Synoptic Gospels. There is no contradiction between Jesus’ doctrine and actions. There is a logical and chronological sequence in the gospel story from its beginning to its end. There is an acknowledged accuracy in the...
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