An Early Recension Of The Gospel Traditions? -- By: Robert H. Stein

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 30:2 (Jun 1987)
Article: An Early Recension Of The Gospel Traditions?
Author: Robert H. Stein


An Early Recension Of The Gospel Traditions?

Robert H. Stein*

At the turn of the century a general consensus existed that the synoptic problem had been solved. The dominating view was that the gospel of Mark had been written around 65–70 and that Matthew and Luke used Mark and were written somewhere between 75 and 95. It was thought, however, that “Q” may have been written earlier, perhaps in the 50s. In OT studies Hermann Gunkel, Hugo Gressmann and others began to study the pre-literary history of the OT traditions. Gunkel was particularly influential in his investigation of the oral history of the literary sources of the Pentateuch (“J,” “E,” “D,” “P”). It is not surprising therefore that after the hiatus in Biblical studies created by World War I similar attention was given to the study of the forms of the gospel materials that lay behind the written gospels. This was particularly true in Germany, whereas in England source-critical work was still a dominant concern.1

Although some scholars such as J. G. Herder (1796), J. C. L. Gieseler (1818) and B. F. Westcott (1888) had earlier referred to the role of oral tradition in the formation of the gospels, it was a triumvirate of German scholars who initiated the form-critical investigation of them. In 1919 K. L. Schmidt’s Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesus and M. Dibelius’ Die Formgeschichte des Evangeliums both appeared. The former work sought to demonstrate that the Mar-kan framework was due to the construction of the evangelist and that before he wrote his gospel the units of tradition found in it circulated mostly as individual, isolated units. The latter work, which gave the name to the new discipline, was primarily concerned with the classification of the various forms of the gospel tradition. In 1921 a third cardinal work appeared, R. Bultmann’s Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition, which exerted a great and lasting influence on the new discipline.2

All form-critical investigation is built upon the presupposition that “before the Gospels were written there was a period of oral tradition.3 It can hardly be denied that there existed a period before the gospels in which the Jesus traditions were transmitted orally, for unless the gospels were completed by

*Robert Stein is professor of New Testament at Bethel Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

the ascension of Jesus (or earlier) there must have been a period when Christians talked about Jesus. In fact we know that this oral period of transmission ...

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