The Formation of the Gospels In The Setting Of Early Christianity: The Jesus Tradition As Corporate Memory -- By: Michael F. Bird

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 67:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: The Formation of the Gospels In The Setting Of Early Christianity: The Jesus Tradition As Corporate Memory
Author: Michael F. Bird


The Formation of the Gospels
In The Setting Of Early Christianity:
The Jesus Tradition As Corporate Memory

Michael F. Bird

Michael Bird is a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

I. Introduction

In twentieth-century New Testament studies the advent of several new forms of criticism has furthered the state of research. Redaction criticism led to a heightened awareness of the theological significance of the Gospels. More recently, narrative criticism has provided insights into the story-world that the Gospel authors create. This appreciation of the Gospels as theology and story is something to be celebrated in the New Testament academy, and it represents a corrective to form criticism that was so atomistic in its scrutinizing of individual units, attempting to peel back layer after layer of tradition instead of seeing how meaning is distributed across the horizon of the text.

Whatever the benefits of these approaches, and they are many, one cannot help but feel that something has been lost in the avalanche of modern scholarship. Regardless of what the text achieves theologically, or of what the Gospels create through an intricate narrative, or of what they evoke in readers, one must remain cognizant of the fact that the Gospel texts have an extra-textual referent beyond themselves in the historical figure of Jesus.1 The purpose of the peculiar Gospel genre is to proclaim good news about a historical figure. Thus, whatever attraction theological and literary approaches hold, it would be to one’s detriment to ignore the historical context surrounding the Gospels. My concern is to situate the Gospels in relation to the early Christian communities and in connection to the Jesus tradition underlying the Gospels. If this concern is translated into questions, one may ask: (1) Do the Gospels aim to reflect or to inform the situation of the early Christian communities? (2) What model of oral tradition best accounts for the transmission of the Jesus tradition leading towards the composition of the Gospels? It is my aim to examine these two questions in order to gain a greater understanding of the relationship between the Gospels and the early Christian communities, as well as to understand the

connection between the Gospels and the historical Jesus. Furthermore, the answers given may go some way towards explaining what the Gospel writers are trying to achieve.

II. The Gospels and the Early Christian Communities

Any theory of the formation of the Gospels needs to account for three particular aspects said ...

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