Jesus Remembered: James Dunn And The Synoptic Problem -- By: Dennis Ingolfsland

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 27:2 (Fall 2006)
Article: Jesus Remembered: James Dunn And The Synoptic Problem
Author: Dennis Ingolfsland

Jesus Remembered: James Dunn And The Synoptic Problem

Dennis Ingolfsland

Dennis Ingolfsland is Professor of Bible and Director of Library Services at Crown College, St. Bonifacius, Minnesota. His e-mail address is Ingolfsland@

I. Introduction

In 2003 James Dunn published Jesus Remembered, a roughly one thousand page tome in which he presented a new method for the historical study of Jesus. Although Dunn strongly endorsed the two-source theory, his new method for studying Jesus opens what may be a previously unexplored option for a solution to the Synoptic Problem. This article will provide an overview and analysis of Dunn’s historical method and will attempt to demonstrate that, if taken to its logical conclusion, it may provide a better solution to the Synoptic Problem.

Since the foundation of Dunn’s method is the work of Kenneth Bailey, a substantial part of the article will be devoted to reviewing Bailey’s work as the background for understanding Dunn.

II. Background: Kenneth Bailey And Oral Tradition

Kenneth Bailey is a NT specialist who has lived and worked in Middle Eastern communities for forty years.1 He argues that cultural insights on the way in which these villages use oral tradition, combined with the “standard critical tools of Western scholarship” and knowledge from ancient literature can provide windows into the formation of the gospels that have never before been explored.2

Bailey distinguishes between three kinds of oral tradition: formal controlled, informal controlled, and informal uncontrolled. Bultmann is used as an example of the latter. Bultmann believed that the earliest followers of Jesus were not interested in preserving the

Jesus tradition, that much of this tradition was, therefore, the creation of early Christian communities, and that it was possible to distinguish between various layers of the tradition behind the Synoptic Gospels.3 Since Bultmann’s model envisioned no formal teachers or students and therefore no controls on the transmission of the oral tradition, Bailey calls this model “informal, uncontrolled tradition.”4

The Scandinavian school of Riesenfeld and Gerhardsson provides an example of formal controlled tradition.5 Gerhardsson studied the teaching techniques of ancient Jewish rabbis and concluded that their studen...

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