James Still's "Critique of New Testament Reliability and 'Bias' in NT Development"--my
My Comment 22:
James Still continues...
[date: June 20, 1998]
In other words the Jesus sayings--from oral tradition to the final
canonized form that we have today--constantly evolved in a dynamic process
which reflected the zeal and enthusiasm of the early Christians who preserved
Robertson remarks on the reasons why it is difficult to separate
the various Jesus traditions from each other:
"Within a hundred years from the date commonly assigned to the
Crucifixion, there are Gentile traces of a Jesuist or Christist movement
deriving from Jewry, and possessing a gospel or memoir as well as some
of the Pauline and other epistles, both spurious and genuine; but the gospel
then current seems to have contained some matter not preserved in the canonical
four, and have lacked much that those contain." (John M. Robertson, Short
History of Christianity,quoted in Herbert Cutner, Jesus: God, Man or Myth?
(New York: Truth Seeker, 1950) p. 230.)
This statement by James (and his use of Robertson here?!) brings us into
the area of what is called the 'Synoptic
Problem'. [We have already argued earlier that the
early church was interested in preserving the original teachings of Jesus,
but here we have to deal with the issue of 'redaction' criticism.]
You see, the position that James takes here-basically that the individual
churches/communities 'changed' (i.e. "constantly evolved in a dynamic...")
what it was taught according to its 'zeal' and other factors-is one specific
theory within a broader field of Synoptic theories. James maintains that
the differences between the obviously similar Synoptic gospels are due
to deliberate, and often confrontationally-based, changes to some original
source. For example, some community (leader) would take Mark and disagreeing
with large parts of it, would recast the Marcan material to suit their
tastes, beliefs, needs, "zeal" etc-irrespective of what "actually happened."
In this way, James can find implicit disagreement with earlier forms of
'the Word of God", implying that the early church perhaps did not even
SEE the early gospels as 'inspired' and certainly not authoritative. If,
on the other hand, the changes are either (1) NOT changes, but rather simple
variances due to eyewitness factors or stylistic preferences (e.g., Jewish
audiences vs. Gentile); or (2) non-ideological disagreements, but
expansions, emphases, etc, then the position that the later writers held
the earlier writings to be 'authoritative' and even 'inspired' (since so
much of the material would have been treated with respect and honor by
the sheer adoption of the vast majority of the material) would be much
So, we will need to spend a little time here on the 'Synoptic Problem".
The 'problem' itself can be stated somewhat simply: how do we account
for the noticeable similarities and yet considerable differences between
the Synoptic Gospels (e.g., Matthew, Mark, and Luke). James gives the example
of the passage about the denunciation of the Pharisees by John the Baptist
(Mt 3.7-10; Luke 3.7-9), bringing to the reader's attention the striking
identity of the vast majority of the passage (although he missed the details
again; there are not two differences, but THREE -the conjunction kai
is additional in Luke).
Assuming that the three gospels are written by three different people,
the existence of such similarity can be explained by at least three different
We will come back to the Eyewitness theory at the end of this article,
but to set the contrasts up now in summary fashion is Linnemann [NT:ITSP:14,15]:
"In order to determine the extent of the 'agreement right down to
word order and sentence structure' assumed by those who argue for literary
dependence, I have investigated, among other things, a representative cross-section
of Mark's Gospel, along with its parallels. This cross-section comprises
34.83 percent of the literary data that Mark contains. At least one pericope
has been selected from every chapter; in most instances several have been
examined. All of the genres or literary categories postulated by form criticism
have been included."
Eyewitness Theory: All three were based on first-hand eyewitness
testimony, with the dissimilarities being due to (1) different eyewitness
word choices or (2) details remembered/noted;
Oral Tradition Theory: All three drew upon a common stock of oral
traditions of the church, which was transmitted through preaching and liturgy,
with the differences being either due to (1) alternate transmission paths;
(2) authorial selection/arrangement of material; or (3) deliberate modification
by the writers;
Literary Dependence Theory: Some of the gospels were written in
dependence on earlier written gospels, with large scale borrowing/adoption
and modifications by the later authors. [I will henceforth abbreviate this
theory by LD.]
"This quantitative Synoptic comparison (in which mere agreement in content
is not taken into account) had the following results: In the cross section
examined, just 22.19 percent of the words in parallel passages are completely
identical; on the average, given 100 words in Mark, Matthew will have 95.68
differences and Luke 100.43. This means that the verbal similarities are
comparatively small and extend chiefly to identical accounts of Jesus'
words and to specific and unalterable vocabulary that is required by the
nature of what is being related.
"These data are quite normal is one assumes the original and independent
free formulation of the same events and circumstances. The same data furnish
no basis for assuming literary dependence."
"...if the Synoptics are three reports having a common basis in the
reported event, then the differences in parallel passages amount to nothing
more than the perspectival contrasts that one would expect when eyewitnesses
are involved. Minor discrepancies are normal; supplementary verses can
be regarded as additional information. On the other hand, if one assumes
dependence on a literary exemplar, then every sentence becomes more or
less a falsification of what was originally stated. Then one is required
to see Matthew and Luke as the result of arbitrary reworking of the Marcan
The dominant (although declining) scholarly opinion today is for Literary
Dependence (LD), and the main question for LD'ers is which gospel was dependent
which other gospel or gospels.
Within Literary Dependence, there are three main competing schools:
I should also point out one final theory of the 'Synoptic Problem": the
"We-give-up theory". This view essentially argues that we cannot unravel
this problem-that the data cannot be explained by ANY theory of literary
dependence, or that ALL theories of LD do equally as well in explaining
the phenomena of scripture.
The Two-Document/Two-Source hypothesis: That Mark was the earliest
gospel, that there was a body of 'sayings' material (i.e., Q), and that
Matthew and Luke were dependent on these two 'sources' (as their main sources).
The Two-Gospel hypothesis: That Luke and Mark were dependent on
canonical Matthew (which already contains all the 'sayings' material already).
[This later position is called the Neo-Greisbachian position.] [Abbreviated
The Farrer hypothesis:
That Matthew used Mark, and that Luke used both, dispensing with the need
How I intend to approach this question:
First: A brief word about scholarly trends...
I want to survey scholarly trends in today's New Testament field (to demonstrate
the move away from the position that James expouses);
I want to point out that the majority-view position does not in any way
require the conclusions that James reaches
I want to evaluate the two main arguments for Literary
Dependence: the argument from verbal identify and the argument from
Finally, I want to sketch out the gospel formation
process as I see it
Twenty to thirty years ago, the field was overwhelmingly dominated by
Two-Source proponents. Scarcely a textbook challenged this theory (although,
as Linnemann pointed out, 2SH was never actually tested, only accepted
without contest! [NT:ITSP]). In the last two or three decades, however,
there are three main shifts in scholarly opinion that are relevant to our
"In recent years there have been at least four brave souls (J.M. Rist,
B. Beicke, J.W. Scott and B. Chilton) who have defied the modern consensus
with regard to literary dependence and have declared their belief in the
complete independence of two or more of the gospels."
The growing population of "We Give Up" scholars. The radical proliferation
of alleged sources and documents required by ANY theory of source-relatedness
has led many to this position. This might be seen in Wenham's description
of the results of the Synoptic Problem Seminar of the Society for New Testament
"In 1979 I found myself in the Synoptic Problem Seminar of the Society
for New Testament Studies, whose members were in disagreement over every
aspect of the subject. When this international group disbanded in 1982
they had sadly to confess that after twelve years' work they had not reached
a common mind on a single issue."
Wenham also describes the "reluctant submission" of the Q/LD theories by
so many [RMML:2]:
"It is true that throughout this century the great majority of scholars
have held to some form of the two-document hypothesis, believing that Mark
came first and that Matthew and Luke independently built their gospels
out of Mark and another source or sources known as Q. Probably, judging
by the attitude of the members of recent gospels conferences, most scholars
who have examined this theory critically have not been particularly impressed
with its logical weight, yet they find no other theory convincing,
and, since life is short, they have been content to go along with the majority
and accept it as a working hypothesis."
Indeed, the German scholar Reisner can say [cited by Linnemann, [NT:ITSP:39]]:
"But throughout this century there has been a steady stream of scholars
who have been so dissatisfied with the theory on which they have been
brought up that they have felt bound to try to do better, and a number
have got to the point of publishing their findings. Yet, not only has no
new consensus emerged, but the debate has reached such an impasse that
the problem begins to look insoluble. In 1985 A. J. Bellinzoni assembled
a collection of the most significant articles in The Two-Source Hypothesis:
A Critical Appraisal. In its final essay J. B. Tyson concluded: 'After
reading these essays it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that nothing
convincing has emerged from this long and torturous discussion."
"Since the mid-1960s there have been many indications that the situation
in Synoptic studies is undergoing significant change....The majority
of researchers, it is true, are hanging on to the old theory, but
it has lost a good deal of its self-evidentness. Especially in English-speaking
quarters there is a growing dissatisfaction with the usual solutions.
Framer has announced the appearance of a large new study which will advance
further arguments for the 'Griesbach hypothesis.' But similar work is underway
elsewhere, e.g. at the Synoptic studies institute of the University of
Nimwegen. Virtually every imaginable solution to the Synoptic problem,
no matter how marginal its merits, currently finds advocates."
And even those who still accept the 2SH, have come to realize the tentativeness
with which it must be held. So CMM:38:
"The two-source hypothesis provides the best overall explanation
for the relationships among the Synoptic Gospels, but two caveats must
be introduced in conclusion. First, the process through which the Gospels
came into being was a complex one, so complex that no source-critical
hypothesis, however detailed, can hope to provide a complete explanation
of the situation. Granted that at least one of the evangelists was
an eyewitness, that various oral and written traditions unrecoverable to
us were undoubtedly circulating, and that the evangelists may even have
talked together about their work, the "scissors-and- paste" assumptions
of some source critics are seen to be quite unfounded. Recognizing
this complexity, along with the stubborn persistence of phenomena that
the two-source hypothesis cannot satisfactorily explain, we should
treat this hypothesis more as a working theory than as a conclusion set
in concrete. Especially important is the need to be open to the possibility
that, in a given pericope, an explanation based on the two-source hypothesis
may not fit the data. For a given text we thus may conclude that Matthew
is more primitive than Mark, or that Luke has followed a special eyewitness
source rather than Mark, or that Matthew has relied on his own remembrance
or written notes rather than on Q.
Also, the growing importance of Literary criticism (as opposed to Historical
criticism), which treats the final-form documents as unitary literary creations,
is implicitly a statement about the usefulness and/or 'rigor' of traditional
source or form criticism. Indeed, this has been explicitly commented upon
by Melick in FBI:434-435:
"In the late 1960s, a major shift in biblical studies occurred. Concerned
with the relative fruitlessness of previous critical analyses, some
biblical scholars called for a new way of approaching the Bible. Source,
form, and redaction criticisms left many with the cold feeling that the
text had been destroyed by constant cutting, pasting, and reanalysis.
Was the Bible ever intended to be so treated?
"Many observed that the Bible had remained a powerful book for people
of faith, regardless of the historical factors that brought it about. Religious
people through the centuries found meaning from the pages of Scripture
apart from the historical questions of critical studies. Perhaps it would
be better to approach the Bible from literary perspectives. This meant
determining appropriate criteria for categorizing Scripture. Further, it
meant interpreting Scripture in light of these categories.
"These scholars left traditional critical methods for many reasons.
Some were disenchanted with the findings of critical scholars. Too
often they concluded with their prior assumptions. Others simply sought
to approach literature holistically rather than piecemeal. Still others
developed new approaches to biblical literature strictly from their literary
studies. For various reasons, therefore, many scholars called for new methods
in biblical studies."
There is a huge resurgence of Two-Gospel advocates. The neo-Greisbachian
school has produced a number of significant works in the last decade or
two, making VERY strong arguments for the Two-Gospel theory (i.e., the
competing theory to the two-source hypothesis, as espoused by James). The
Committee of scholars which met in Jerusalem in 1984 challenged BOTH hypotheses
to make pericope-by-pericope explanations. The neo-Greisbachians have published
theirs, and their work BQI makes this strong claim at its conclusion [BQI:318-319]:
"When the work began which has resulted in this volume, the group had
set itself a daunting but nonetheless modest goal. Challenged by other
scholars, especially at the Jerusalem Symposium on the Interrelation of
the Gospels in 1984, advocates of the Two Gospel Hypothesis set out to
give a pericope-by-pericope demonstration of (a) how Mark used Matthew
and Luke and (b) how Luke used Matthew.
"The latter demonstration was especially daunting because it had never
been done, not even by the original Griesbachians. As work progressed on
this part of the project and pieces began to fit, firm optimism began to
emerge that a credible explanation of Luke's use of Matthew was possible.
About two years ago, having charted the sequential relationship of Luke
to Matthew in Luke 3-9, the mood changed. Hard on the heels of that advance
came the painstaking process of tracing Luke's relationship to Matthew
in the Travel Narrative, which for one hundred and fifty years has been
the graveyard of Synoptic hypotheses. With the development of a similar
chart which showed the pattern of Luke's intricate but orderly use of Matthew
in the Travel Narrative, our sense of the value of this work underwent
a significant transformation. We now believe that we have presented
evidence which makes it difficult to hold any other position than that
Luke used Matthew directly as his primary source.
"That bold assertion is based on three kinds of phenomena which
have been presented in this book. The most important is the evidence that
Luke followed the sequential order of Matthew in the major narrative sections
of his Gospel. In Lk 3-9, Luke followed a pattern of cyclic progression.
In Lk 9-19, Luke combined the material from Matthew's great speeches in
thematic sections of the Travel Narrative, often following the internal
order of those sayings units within their Matthean contexts. And in Lk
20-24, he adopted Matthew's basic sequential order. A second level of
evidence for the direct dependence of Luke on Matthew is the number
of cases, not at all inconsiderable, where Luke has preserved key phrases
that were created by Matthew for redactional summaries or introductions.
But what was perhaps the most delightful surprise for us was the third
level of evidence of Luke's use of Matthew. We discovered that, time
after time, Luke's use of Matthew was best and most easily explained
by Luke's widely recognized compositional concerns; e.g., the units
on prayer in Lk 11:1- 13 and 18:1-14. Throughout our compositional analysis,
we observed remarkable ways in which Luke's purposes and characteristics
dovetailed precisely with his use of Matthew.
"The net result of this study is, then, that we believe that
more than a demonstration that Luke might have used Matthew as his source
has been achieved. We believe that it will be difficult to argue that
the data in Luke can be explained any other way than that Luke was
thoroughly conversant with canonical Matthew and made it the basis of his
"Certainly further research is needed to pursue many details not covered
by our Demonstration, to ferret out and present anomalies to our hypothesis;
in short, to test our results. For one thing, future research must include
a more refined analysis of Luke's use of nonmatthean tradition.
"We now turn our attention to a pericope-by-pericope compositional analysis
of Mark's use of both Matthew and Luke. With this effort, we intend to
update and refine Owen's and Griesbach's original attempts. Beyond that,
we are working toward a redactional analysis of Matthew independent of
any assumption of Matthew's dependence on Mark and 'Q.' That task will
ultimately include a tradition-historical separation of the sources of
Matthew, including what may go back to the historical Jesus.
"If further examination and debate does bear out the main outlines of
our contention that we now have hard evidence that the author of
the Gospel of Luke made direct and systematic use of the canonical Gospel
of Matthew, then it follows that the entire currently held understanding
of the development of earliest Christianity-especially as it rests on the
belief in 'Q"-will need a complete overhaul, since a whole series
of misconceptions and false conclusions would have to be given up.
As is made clear in the Introduction, this overhaul would necessarily extend
to the very instruments used by all scholars in Gospel research: the synopsis
and the critical text. In this sense, Luke's Use of Matthew presages
the beginning of an exciting new era in New Testament studies. [italics
original; bold mine]
CMM, themselves supporters of the Two-Source Hypothesis, point out that
its strength has eroded greatly over the past couple of decades [CMM:32]:
"But most scholars thought that Streeter and his predecessors had clearly
proven the two-source hypothesis in general, and this explanation of gospel
origins was generally assume by those, such as the redaction critics, who
were working on other aspects of the Gospels...As noted above, however,
this is no longer true. The two-source hypothesis has been subjected
over the last thirty years to serious criticism, most notably by advocates
of the two-gospel, or Griesbach, proposal, but by others also, some of
whom maintain Markan priority, while questioning the existence or nature
of Q. To the extent that these challenges have induced some caution into
what was often an overly dogmatic and simplistic reconstruction of gospel
origins, they have had a salutary effects. The two-source theory has
been appropriate dethroned form the status of being an 'assured results
Neville, in what could arguably be called the most significant contribution
to the issue recently, pointed out in his conclusion [NT:AOSSC:223]:
"we have only recently emerged from a period when the theory of Marcan
priority was almost incontestable. The present climate of 'pluralism' in
gospel studies is a welcome development."
A number of scholars have left the LD school in a move toward the Oral
Tradition approach. The vast number of substantive differences-even
within the passages that are considered parallel or borrowed-have convinced
a growing number of well-respected scholars to abandon LD in favor of various
Oral Tradition theories. Wenham documents a number of these [RMML:6]:
[It is important to note that these scholars are generally NOT lock-step
Form Critics-they do NOT hold to "long and loose" oral transmission periods.]
And even those who DO hold to LD are aware of this erosion of consensus.
Even Byrskog can say [HI:JTOT:332]: "I will proceed on the assumption that there is sufficient
evidence for the view, still in some form held by the majority
of scholars, that Matthew knew a version of Mark's narrative and that the
material with Matthews's narrative shares only with Luke's narrative reflects
another (flexible) body of tradition--the Q material." [emphasis mine.
Notice how far this is from 'all scholars agree'!]
So, the Two-Source Theory (held by James) is weakening, but James
seems unaware of this and indeed voices unusual confidence in a theory
that is losing ground and adherents daily. And the Literary Dependence
Theory (held by James) is weakening. And the "We can figure these
interrelationships out" theory (held by James) is weakening.
And even the arguments James uses in his subsequent piece, have all
"gone away", yet James seems unaware of the scholarly trends. So Farmer
can point out [BQI:xi]:
"For example, Robert Funk, in his recently published Five Gospels
(Harper Collins, 1994), stated that the priority of Mark and the existence
of "Q" (the Two Source Hypothesis) were pillars on which the research of
the Jesus Seminar rested. In support of this position, Funk cited the same
arguments Streeter published in 1924. But every one of these arguments
has been discredited in the course of subsequent discussion of the
synoptic problem and are no longer used by knowledgeable proponents
of the Two Source Hypothesis, e.g., Frans Neirynck and Christopher
Tuckett. Such is the deplorable condition of some of the so-called scientific
study of the Gospels in the United States today.
And some of the arguments James used have been demonstrated to be unreliable
[Dungan, ABD, s.v. "Two-Gospel Hypothesis"]:
"Customary analyses of stylistic features of the Gospels that focus
on such phenomena as better or worse Greek, direct discourse vs. reported
speech, increasing detail, increasing length, and greater or lesser “semiticism”
have been demonstrated to be completely unreliable for determining
whether a pericope or saying is early or late, since none of these linguistic
traits are consistent indicators of early vs. late tradition (Sanders 1969;
Frye 1978: 264–79).
Now, I do not expect James to necessarily bring up all the counter-arguments
to his position by any means, but I do wish that his presentation of the
material would be less dogmatic and reflect the much less 'assured results'
character of the real situation today. (I am assuming that he is aware
of how the Jesus Seminar position is a fringe phenomenon, and how the scholarly
trends documented above have rendered his position into a 'working hypothesis'
only, and not a secure position from which to make confident redactional
judgments of large scope.)
And less we be misled, we must recognize that MANY of the arguments
for one order or another of the gospels are quite reversible! Dungan, himself
obviously a 'reluctant adherent' of the 2SH, points this out [ABD, s.v.,
"Synoptic Problem"], as well as the importance of pre-commitments (note
the phrase: "on the basis of the main tenets of..."!):
"The Two-Source theory probably offers the most adequate (or least
problematic) solution to the synoptic problem. It is not free from
difficulties and it can never be proved with mathematical finality. Many
arguments used in the discussion are reversible. Practically all arguments
depend on claims to the effect that a development of the tradition in one
direction is "more likely" than the reverse development. Clearly, any such
claim is subjective, and always potentially open to a counterclaim
which tries to account for the opposite change in question. Thus the
most one can say is that the Two-Source theory provides a reasonably
comprehensive account of the development of the tradition on the basis
of its main tenets of the dependence of Matthew and Luke on the Markan
and Q traditions."
And Wenham comments on the same problem [RMML:89-90]:
"The relationship which is still usually favoured makes Matthew the
redactor of Mark. One achievement of the modern reopening of the synoptic
debated by Butler, Farmer and the rest has been the recognition of the
worthlessness of some may of the arguments which have been deployed.
Most of the arguments are reversible and can be used with comparable
effectiveness either way. So often reasons purporting to support a given
redactional view are simply possible reasons with might have
influenced a redactor if there was a redactor-which has yet to be
Why is the Synoptic Problem important to the 'faith' or to the issue
Now, NONE of these theories in themselves are "matters of faith." There
are outstanding evangelicals who STRONGLY hold to the same basic version
of the 2SH theory of LD of James, either WITH a written Q (e.g. E.Earl
Ellis [GAG]), with an oral Q (e.g. Robert Stein, SPI), or with a hybrid
Q (e.g. Ralph P. Martin, NTF). What IS at issue, within LD, is
the motives behind the evangelists' 'modifications' of their predecessors
material (and what that might reveal about their attitudes toward the
For example, given LD, why would Matthew redact (i.e., change) some
of Mark's material about the Baptism of Jesus? James looks at the parallel
passages and does the classic redaction criticism 'pop psychoanalysis'
"Matthew prefers that the post-baptism vision and God's communication
be an external physical event. He overrides Mark and writes that
the skies physically opened up, so that there can be no doubt that several
witnesses were on hand who would know that Jesus is the Son of God. Matthew
is also troubled by Mark's carelessness in not seeing how Jesus
did not need to be baptized for the remission of sin. How does a blameless
lamb need the removal of sin? So Matthew inserts some additional narrative
that subordinates John to Jesus...There are times when Matthew and Luke
correct Mark's many irritating and ungrammatical duplicate expressions..."
Now, apart from the questions as to (1) how much training James has had
in psychoanalysis to be qualified to have such 'insights', and as to (2)
whether such psychoanalytical judgments can be based on "counseling sessions'
of only a paragraph length with any confidence at all(!), we have to ask
how James can 'control' such subjective judgments? For example, the "duplicate
expressions" that James looks down on, can easily be seen as data AGAINST
his position. So, Dungan in ABD (s.v. "Synoptic Problems") can point to
"Although this phenomenon has been used to argue in favor of Markan
priority (Matthew and Luke simply cut out Mark's redundancy: Streeter),
others have felt that the phenomenon constitutes a major problem for
the theory. Why should Matthew and Luke so conveniently choose to pick
the half of the double expression which the other omits? Hence neo-Griesbachians
would argue that the texts can be best explained as due to Mark's conflating
his two sources (Farmer 1977; Dungan 1970). The evidence is probably
And the defensibility of how he came to such a position from the text is
quite an issue-there are certainly alternate explanations for this data.
Consider the explanation for the 'troubling carelessness' by evangelical
"A major tenet of redaction criticism is that wherever one Gospel
differs from its sources, it most likely does so deliberately and often
for theological reasons. Thus, when Matthew adds to his account of John
the Baptist's initial encounter with Jesus described in Matthew 3:14-15,
in which Jesus insists John baptize Him despite his reluctance to do so...,
he probably does so because it fits a major theme which he emphasizes
throughout this Gospel--Jesus as the fulfillment of all of God's word
One can see here that a different set of assumptions are at play. Whereas
James can load the passage up with an amazing amount of 'contention' between
Matthew and Mark (even calling some grammatical constructions 'irritating'!),
Blomberg sees a more respectful attitude in the text.
[And, just in case James was suggesting that Matthew was adding 'unhistorical'
narrative, let me be quick to point out that this specific incident is
quoted by Ignatius, before most form critics will allow Matthew to have
even been finished! [BLOM:206-207]
But this adversarial understanding of the early church simply
presumes too much. Lemcio describes this particular historical understanding,
with just a bit of sardonic wit (but practically NO exaggeration) [PJG:23]:
"All four communities and two traditions (synoptic and Johannine)
were wracked with dissension caused either by interlopers from without
or malcontents from within. Christians were engaged in a veritable "Thirty
Years' War" (ca. A.D. 70- 100), dispute spreading like wildfire
wherever sayings by and narratives about Jesus became collected. Nothing
was taken for granted. Each point lay open for challenge. Parties vied
for every inch of ground. No word or nuance that had any potential doctrinal
significance was overlooked. Were the results of my analysis above to be
enlisted, then no less than eight kerygmata would have to be acknowledged
(ten with John the Baptist's). Here, however, a new element would have
to be considered. Instead of Jesus (read "Evangelist") engaged in controversy
with misguided disciples and religious opponents (read "errant Christians"),
it is a house divided against itself: one Jesus kerygma versus another
Jesus kerygma. In Matthew, the Kingdom Party (for Jews only) regarded the
disciple wing that welcomed Gentiles as dangerous innovators. According
to Luke, the faction promising release from sins to all had outgrown the
activistic, lower class, and Jewish Jubilee sect. The Front for the Integrity
of God in Mark and John tried to hold its own against the inroads made
by the Cadre for Christocentric Inclusionism.
It is hard to imagine such a church impressing the Empire with its love,
maintaining enough unity to growth at the unprecedented rate that it did,
and manifesting the ability to work through theological conflict like it
did in Acts 14-15.
What kinds of 'changes' are we talking about? What kinds of modifications
But what exactly is meant by 'redaction'? What kinds of changes are
in view? CMM:39-40 lists the basic types of 'redactions' the Evangelists
1. The material they have chosen to include and exclude.
2. The arrangement of the material.
3. The "seams" that the evangelist uses to stitch his tradition together.
4. Additions to the material.
5. Omission of material.
6. Change of wording.
But these are relatively neutral 'tools', that could either be used in
fidelity to sources or in repudiation of them. And some of the criticisms
noted by Osborne [NTCI:213] illustrates this problem:
"Many critics proceed with the assumption that every redactional change
is by definition a creation and thus cannot be historical. Yet this is
a presupposition and by no means carries the day. Addition and omission
are not criteria for historicity, but for style, selection, and emphasis...Many
proponents of Redaction Criticism assume that every jot and tittle of the
author's changes carries theological weight. They seem to forget that
many changes are stylistic rather than theological and that the evangelists
were often paraphrasing rather than quoting their sources verbatim...The
bewildering multiplicity of theories coming from redactional studies belies
any pretence that the method leads to assured results...each scholar
seems to produce different results from the same data, results that suspiciously
resemble the thesis with which the scholar began!...
My point here is that redactional analysis, which is based on LD and related
'content-borrowing' theories, will be notoriously subjective, and therefore
often by radically colored by one's view of the attitude of the writers
to each other.
For James, who often manifests a polemical style in even his representations
of MY position (even showing the same amazing psychoanalytical presumption
in statements like "Glenn is uncomfortable deviating from the centuries-old
orthodox view of..." and "Glenn feels that he needs to place Luke and Matthew
much earlier than scholarly consensus suggests"), all 'modifications' or
'redactions' in the text amount to disagreements between rival communities
or rival theological positions. [James is drawing here from the older and
fading Bauer thesis, which I dealt with elsewhere.]
On the other hand, for less radical LDers, who understand the relations
as being amiable and complementary, modifications or 'redactions' in the
text amount to explication, addition of additional detail, elaboration
of sub-themes, emphasis, and the like. In fact, a later author could indeed
have considered an earlier work to be 'the Word of God' and STILL make
these redactions and expansions (assuming access to the correct information
with which to modify the original).
And, just to cite another Q-believer, Byrskog can delineate the nature
of 'creative elaboration' by Matthew on his sources of Mark and Q thus
"To summarize and conclude, several OT sayings in Matthew belong
to a tradition which has been the object of expansion and/or rearrangement.
In I 1: IO; 15:4, 8f; 19:4f, 18f-, 21:42; 22:32, 44; 26:31 the OT sayings
are part of a reasoning which is more deductive than the tradition. The
OT quotation itself may serve different functions in the argumentation,
mostly of course as a proof. But it never stands alone, separated from
Jesus' own words. Matthew achieves this deductive logic by working on the
setting of the quotation, on the quotation itself or on both together.
The expansion consists of additions to the setting and/or the actual
quotation. The rearrangement manifests itself through the different
order of words and phrases in the setting and/or actual quotation.
The two means of working on the tradition--expansion and rearrangement-often
occur within one and the same unit. At the end, Jesus emerges as a person
using the OT as authoritative Scripture but still developing its logical
function and force. He incorporates it within his own elaborated argumentation
in the story.[italics original; bold mine]
This hardly sounds very 'adversarial' and indeed, hardly very 'creative'...
Or consider the conclusion of the team on BQI, in BQI:14:
"If this general description is accurate, it means that the author
of the Gospel of Luke was a Hellenistic Christian writer who made systematic,
intelligible, and respectful use of his most important source, the
Gospel of Matthew, as well as other traditions."
How would one decide between the more adversarial assumption of
James and this later respectful assumption?
Although it might be largely based on one's reconstruction of early
church history (as being more adversarial during the first decades of the
church, as opposed to being more unified during that period), a primary
consideration MUST be given to the obvious fact that they used a vast majority
of the pre-existing material! In other words, the very existence of the
'Synoptic Problem" with the 'vast' similarities of material, argues that
the later authors had 'vast' respect for the earlier author's work. Why
else use so much of it, with the obvious corollary that who ever saw the
work would KNOW that much was borrowed?
The adversarial position must maintain that the appropriation of vast
amounts of material was an attempt to supersede the other, and this
presumes much more conflict in the first-century church than we have evidence
for. All the controversies that show up have very focused ranges (e.g.
circumcision, lapsed believers, diet) but NONE of this material shows up
in the allegedly redactional material. In other words, the redactions
are not 'self-serving' enough to evidence such an intense motive. We
simply do not have adequate reason to believe that the level of contention
required by some versions of the 2SH (like James') demands.
Indeed, Dungan in ABD (s.v. "Two Gospel Hypothesis") can draw the differences
between the historical evidence between 2SH and 2GH thus:
"There are fundamental historical objections to the two
main alternative types of source theory. First, those hypotheses envisioning
a complex process in the composition of the Gospels (Parker 1953;
Vaganay 1954; Léon-Dufour 1959; Gaboury 1970; Boismard 1972) invoke
the existence of so many hypothetical "lost recensions" and "missing
sources" of the Gospels that it is difficult to think of them as critical
historical hypotheses. They are more like "conjectural scenarios" not meant
to be held accountable to accepted practices of scientific evidence
(Dungan 1970: 81-88). It is no wonder that none of these scholars has written
a history of the early Church indicating when and where these many "lost
versions" were produced or why they disappeared.
"There is a different historical objection to the 2SH, however. If
Mark was written first, followed by Matthew and Luke, one must then accept
a disjointed historical process. According to the 2SH, the first gospel
to appear was an anonymous, legend-filled portrait of a Hellenistic miracle
worker (Bultmann 1963: 346-48). This first short gospel (later called "Mark")
was then allegedly "corrected" by a second anonymous author who produced
a "re-Judaized" revision (later called "Matthew") that harkened back
to the theme of Jesus as the long-awaited eschatological Jewish king.
Meanwhile, a third anonymous author allegedly also "corrected" the first
writing to present a portrait of Jesus as the universal Hellenistic Savior
(it was later called "Luke"). None of these writings came from Jesus' disciples.
This hypothesis results in the denial that the historical Jesus of Nazareth
can be known from the Gospels since they are largely made up of pious legends
and myth (Bultmann 1963: 368-74). Paradoxically, "Q is the most important
Christian text that we have . . . the canon behind the canon" (Robinson
1983: 28; cf. Ellis 1983: 36-38).
"The 2GH, on the other hand, sees no evidence of such implausible
disjunctions in the historical development of the early Church. It
finds a consistent, carefully nurtured tradition extending from Jesus
through the apostles into the early Church leadership (1 Clem.
42; cf. Gerhardsson 1961). It notes that the first gospel, Matthew, exercised
an enormous influence on the life and faith of the early Church (Massaux
1950). It notes evidence that the Jesus tradition was maintained, transmitted,
and applied to the living situation of the Church by a special group of
traditionists especially dedicated to that task, a group which certainly
included "the Twelve," James the brother of the Lord, and the apostle Paul
(Gerhardsson 1964; 1986). It notes evidence that the leadership of the
Church sought to maintain close and harmonious relationships, so that there
might be continuity, coherency, and controlled creativity in the life of
faith (Farmer and Kereszty 1990; Willis 1987). It notes evidence that the
Gospel Tradition was carefully transmitted from its beginnings down to
the point when it was deposited in the four apostolic testimonies (Hofius
1983; cf. Gerhardsson 1986: 49-53). They were ultimately combined with
other apostolic letters and writings (a "martyr's canon"; Farmer 1982:
213-15) as a companion volume with "the Law and the Prophets" to form the
Christian Scripture. Putting the Jesus tradition into written form followed
the practices of the well-known Hellenistic bios encomium genre
(Shuler 1982; cf. Talbert 1977).
Sometimes the adversarial position is modified down to 'bias'. This is
stated quite clearly in the statement of Haacker, from a standard NT Introduction
textbook [cited in NT:ITSP:38]:
"Wherever Matthew and Luke obviously draw on Q, but diverge from each
other, the question must be posed: Which of the two has modified the common
Q source, and what were the motives? Here one must ponder whether
Matthew's version is better explained as showing the bias typical
of Matthew, or whether it is rather the case that Luke's version evinces
a typically Lucan bias."
Linnemann adds the note: "This means that every divergence should be explained
by the assumption that biases are at work." [Note: whether they are theological
And redaction criticism is far from neutral--too often it reflects
the presumptions of the interpreter
Wenham, pointing out that these views of the authors are NOT the results
of synoptic studies themselves, states the issue clearly and concisely
"Ultimately the acceptability of redaction theories will turn on
what we think of the evangelists and their aims. If we believe that
they were well informed, anxious to pass on their story in accordance with
the apostolic tradition, we shall be sceptical of theories which allow
great scope to the evangelist to modify and transpose his source material
and to create new material to serve his purpose. (Also it needs to
be remembered that the more complex such redactionary work is held to be
the less likely it is that we have identified it correctly.) The only safe
criterion of literary dependence is the plain man's test: IS there consistent
evidence of either copying of order or copying of the actual wording."
And CMM, who are inclined toward 2SH anyway, can make the same point [CMM:44-45]:
"The question, then, boils down to the intentions of the evangelists
as these can be determined from their express statements and their actual
redactional work. Did they intend to write their gospels with a
concern for historical accuracy? Or did they theologize the message
of Jesus with little interest in whether it really happened that way or
not? Redaction criticism, in itself, cannot answer these questions.
And redaction critics themselves come to radically different conclusions
about this matter. Some are convinced that a careful study of the modifications
introduced by the evangelists shows no tampering with historicity.
They separate redaction from tradition in order to understand the message
of the Gospels better, without supposing that the redaction has any
less historical foundation than the tradition. Thus, for instance,
they may conclude that Luke has redacted Jesus' beatitude "Blessed are
the poor' to include an economic focus by pairing it with his "Woe to you
rich," while Matthew has redacted the same saying as "Blessed are the poor
in spirit, to emphasize the spiritual dimension. But as long as Jesus intended
both- and it is quite likely that he did, given the Old Testament concept
of the poor-then it would be unfair to accuse either evangelist of an
unhistorical tampering with the words of Jesus. Many instances are,
of course, more difficult, and only a text-by-text scrutiny of the data
is finally adequate to demonstrate the case one way or the other. Our point
here is simply that redaction criticism need not be destructive to the
historical accuracy of the Gospels and that redaction critics who assume
that the evangelists had no concern for history in their redactional activity
have not proven their point.
So it is not the theory per se that is the problem, but the assumptions
and pre-commitments of the critical scholar that determine the relationship
between the theory and "the faith".
In fact, the evangelical scholar has two approaches to this issue: (1)
either deny dependence at all or (2) demonstrate that the phenomena of
dependence accords well with an evangelical understanding of the early
church and her scriptures. We have seen that a growing number of well-respected
scholars are beginning to move to (1), and (2) can be easily documented
from synoptic studies:
"The upshot of this is that, in spite of all the differences between
the two gospels, Luke is demonstrably most reluctant to write anything
which alters-less still, contradicts-the sense of Mark, especially
in his reporting of the words of Jesus" [RMML:29]
"If this general description is accurate, it means that the author of
the Gospel of Luke was a Hellenistic Christian writer who made systematic,
intelligible, and respectful use of his most important source, the
Gospel of Matthew, as well as other traditions." [BQI:14]
So the presence of changes-even with LD or 2SH-does not at all require
the position that James argues.
And theoretically, we could stop here-there is nothing in LD
or 2SH that requires that 'bias' (in the negative or anti-historical sense)
be present. But let's go farther, just to examine the case of LD. How strong
is the evidence that one/some of the evangelists had other gospel(s) in
front of them? If the case is shaky, then even the redactional issue that
James is dependent on will prove useless.
Summary of our research so far:
In short, the situation is neither as clear as James makes it out to be,
nor as negative, nor is it even a very relevant argument to the issue of
bias. The 'synoptic problem" itself simply cannot provide any data as to
the issue of 'bias leading to distortion' on the part of the NT authors.
There is a growing number of scholars who are 'giving up' on solving the
Synoptic Problem (and thus abandoning the "solution" proposed by James).
There is a huge resurgence of scholarly support and argument/evidence for
2GH (contra James), as well as a healthy body of adherents of the Farrer
position, (Marcan priority; Luke uses Matthew), for example Goodacre.
Even believers (and "Yes, James", it IS akin to informed religious belief
in my opinion-I do not make radical dichotomies between religious decisions
based on some factual/cognitive content and 'scholarly' positions largely
based on subjective pre-commitments!) in 2SH have noted that the confidence
in 2SH has dropped from "assured results" to a "reluctant working hypothesis"!
The differences within the Synoptic tradition are starting to be taken
seriously, with the result that many substantial scholars have abandoned
the position of ANY literary dependence, with some of them falling back
to the vaguer "oral tradition" models.
No position within the options of LD or OT are per se inimical to
"faith". It is only when one imputes negative attitudes to the redactors
that one can create a 'low view of scripture' that is at odds with confessional
belief. Many, many evangelicals hold to 2SH and 2GH, without it at any
level impugning the revelational character of the pre-Gospel traditions.
The adversarial reading of the redactions is NOT required by the text itself;
this is something generally brought to the text by the interpreter/critic.
(A "respectful" reading is just as harmonious with the data.)
In fact, the data of 'respectful treatment', especially by Luke, and the
wholesale borrowing of material and form from one evangelists by another
(i.e., the very 'identity' aspect of the 'synoptic problem'!) argues at
least for a very high view of the tradition.
Redactional judgments are KNOWN to be quite subjective, and are generally
NOT given the confidence and weight given to them by James
Redactional judgments are KNOWN to often display the pre-commitments of
the critics/interpreters (as opposed to being 'in the text'), such as pre-commitments
to the older Bauer view of a 'contentious church'
2SH appears to be much more conjectural than 2GH, and indeed, even 'less
neutral' than 2GH.
2SH assumes major disjunction and discontinuity between the careful preservation
motifs of first-century Judaism and what is conjectured to have happened
(without evidential warrant).
Many of the arguments for this order vs. that order are reversible,
and depend often on a 'best fit' argument rather than an inductive one
But let's go a step farther-how strong is the case for 'redactions'
at all? To the extent that the case for LD is weak,
to that same extent the existence of redactions-as modifications of literary
sources-is even further weakened.
Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.Christianthinktank.com] (Reference