Biblical Criticism.jpg

F. David Farnell

2 Peter 1:16 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.


The historical-critical methods of form[1] and tradition[2] criticism are the natural end-products of the radical historical skepticism produced from the period of the Enlightenment and beyond. Their derivation and development radiated historically from an underlying foundation that was innately hostile to the biblical text, especially in terms of its origin, historicity, and validity.

More strategically, however, is the fact that the hostility of these methodologies to the biblical text strategically centers in the essential philosophical nature of these disciplines. Form and tradition criticism are inherently philosophically driven disciplines. Philosophical traditions that were inherently hostile to the biblical text were the motivating force behind the developments of these disciplines and are responsible for the history, characteristics, and methodological expressions and practices of both form and tradition criticism. This hostility to the biblical text that is displayed in form and tradition criticism is the natural consequence of their philosophical underpinnings. These philosophical movements that comprise the Presuppositional foundations and underpinnings of form and tradition criticism are also responsible for the ascendance of these methodologies to widespread predominance in biblical interpretation.

Moreover,  philosophy forms the basis for all historical-critical methodologies (source, form, redaction, tradition, literary criticism) practiced in recent times. As inherently philosophical methodologies, form and tradition criticism have already prescribed agendas that reach foregone conclusions. These disciplines cannot ever hope to perform an objective analysis because their design and superstructure are predicated upon a host of assumptions that are, by their very nature, philosophical in origin and expression. One should overlook this philosophical basis of form and tradition criticism. It is, therefore, more accurate to describe such historical-critical methodologies as “ideologies” rather than methodologies.[3] As a result, form and tradition criticism as historical-critical methodologies are not capable of being  “neutral” tools and have no real hopes of being so, no matter how far evangelicals try to “modify” this hermeneutical methodology. Their philosophical underpinnings preclude the possibility of neutrality or any form of objectivity or honesty in handling the biblical text.

Not only is an understanding of their philosophical bases important, but critical also to a proper understanding of form and tradition criticism is their nature as hermeneutical methodologies. These disciplines seek to make interpretive conclusions that are driven ultimately by philosophical underpinnings. Any such interpretive practices and decisions, therefore, are highly suspect due to the philosophically-driven basis of these disciplines.  Indeed, much of what is considered exegesis in historical-critical methodologies is actually better described as eisegesis, i.e. the reading into the text of interpretive elements and conclusions that are extraneous and/or foreign to the text (not actually expressed through the text).  Other possibilities are a priori proscribed or prohibited.   Just like a child’s Lego® set is capable of building only certain structures in a certain way, so is the situation with the interpretive methodologies of form and tradition criticism.  As eisegetical methods, they also are acutely subjective in nature, mirroring the capricious manipulation and bias of the interpreter. In contrast to the goal of the grammatico-historical method that correctly has been to eschew subjectivity in interpretation as much as possible, form and tradition criticism, by their very nature, actively promote the imposition of subjectivity upon the text.

At first, the liberal camp of theology developed and practiced form and tradition criticism since they were most profoundly influenced by prevailing philosophical developments that arose from the Enlightenment and beyond. Liberals lauded the utilization of these disciplines since they promoted the a priori agenda of the left-wing in their interpretation of the biblical text.  The post-Bultmannian Norman Perrin is typical, calling form criticism “the single most important development” in the history of gospel criticism “for it provides what must be regarded as the only satisfactory understanding of the nature of the synoptic gospel material.”[4]  Others have been more modest in praise.  Redlich, realizing the vastly assumptive nature of form criticism, reflects a more moderate tone, “exponents of the Form-Critical school quite understandably overrate the value of their method.”[5]


Sadly, the practice of form and tradition criticism has now gained a stronghold in the evangelical camp. While evangelicals, especially conservative evangelicals, at first generally adopted an apologetic stance against such hermeneutical methodologies, many are now evidencing much greater willingness to accept such methodologies in their approach to interpreting the text.   Robert Guelich, in his The Sermon on the Mount (1982) following George Ladd’s lead (see editor’s “Introduction” that details Ladd’s views), his mentor, promotes an exegesis “that . . . makes use of the literary critical tools including text, source, form, tradition, redaction, and structural criticism” and goes on to assert “for many to whom the Scriptures are vital the use of these critical tools has historically been more ‘destructive’ than ‘constructive.’  But one need not discard the tool because of its abuse.”[6]   Darrell Bock also follows this logic, arguing, “In the hands of a skilled exegete who uses the tools of interpretation in a way that fits what they are capable of, Form Criticism can be a fruitful aid to understanding and to exposition.”[7]

Alister McGrath, in a recent article, declared that evangelicalism is the “Future of Protestantism,” representing “a modern standard bearer of historic, orthodox Christianity,” the “mainstream of American Protestant Christianity,” and “The Christian vision of the future.”[8]  However, this future for orthodox Christianity will be bleak indeed if conservative evangelicals continue to increase their association with historical-critical methodologies like form criticism.  This latter thought receives reinforcement in the fact that through the employment of historical-critical methods now increasingly promoted by conservative evangelicals; liberals had long ago come to intellectual bankruptcy in their analysis of the Gospel material (e.g. deconstructionism).

In light of this growing acceptance of form and tradition criticism among conservative evangelicals, this chapter will analyze these hermeneutical disciplines, trace their Presuppositional and historical developments, and highlight their practice among liberals and conservative evangelicals alike in order to demonstrate the hermeneutical dangers posed by the adoption of these historical-critical methods.

The Definition and Description of Form Criticism

The renown German theologian Rudolf Bultmann (1893-1976), in essential agreement with Martin Dibelius, defines form criticism as follows:

I am entirely in agreement with M. Dibelius when he maintains that form-criticism is not simply an exercise in aesthetics nor yet simply a process of description or classification; that is to say, it does not consist of identifying the individual units of the tradition according to their aesthetics or other characteristics and placing them in their various categories.  It is much rather “to discover the origin and the history of the particular units and thereby to throw some light on the history of the tradition before it took literary form.”  The proper understanding of form-criticism rests upon the judgment that the literature in which the life of a given community, even the primitive Christian community, has taken shape, springs out of the quite definite conditions and wants of life from which grows up a quite definite style and quite specific forms and categories.  Thus every literary category has its “life situation” (Sitz im Leben: Gunkel), whether it be worship in its different forms, or work, or hunting, or war.  The Sitz im Leben is not, however, an individual historical event, but a typical situation or occupation in the life of the community.[9]

The British theologian F. F. Bruce prefers a more simple, watered-down definition: “Form criticism (Ger. Formgeschichte, ‘form history’) represents an endeavor to determine the oral prehistory of written documents or sources, and to classify the material according to the various “forms” or categories of narrative, discourse, and so forth.”[10]

Pre-eminently an Ideology Rather Than Methodology

Yet, one must not treat these definitions in isolation, for taken out of context, they mistakenly might be interpreted to portray form criticism as a somewhat benign process.  However, as will be demonstrated, form criticism involves far more than determining so-called form categories or an alleged “life situation” from which the gospel tradition arose.  Both presuppositionally and historically, form criticism inherently makes strategic, a priori judgments on the historicity and factuality of the gospel records.  It is an ideology as well as a methodology. Eta Linnemann, herself a former Bultmannian who turned evangelical, remarks that historical criticism, in general, is more an ideology than a methodology,

A more intensive investigation would show that underlying the historical-critical approach is a series of prejudgments which are not themselves the result of scientific investigation. They are rather dogmatic premises, statements of faith, whose foundation is the absolutizing of human reason as a controlling apparatus.”[11]

Presuppositionally, certain ideologies are inherent in the methodology that contributed to the development of form criticism. Indeed, as will be seen, form criticism (and tradition criticism) would not have been conceptually possible without certain presuppositional and historical developments. The method is replete with a priori assumptions that are buttressed by little or no proof.  As a result, one must investigate the presuppositional and historical development of the methodology to determine the legitimacy of the method as a hermeneutical discipline, especially in relationship to its utilization by conservative evangelicals.

The term “form criticism” comes from the German formgeschichte (English, “form history”).  In German, its full title is formgeschichtliche Methode.  As with such terms as redactionsgischichte (English, “redaction history or criticism” and traditionsgeschichte (English, “form history or criticism”), the original German name of the discipline subtly reveals its negative philosophical underpinnings by the usage of term geschichte instead of the term historie. While the word historie refers to objective historical facts of history (external and verifiable), the usage of geschichte dichotomizes the concept of history further into interpretations of history, i.e., history as significance, internal and non-verifiable. According to this distinction, that Jesus was a man who lived in the first century is an objective statement of historical fact, or historie, that may be verified by canons of “historical reason,” while the assertion that he was the Son of God is an interpretive statement and belongs to the realm of geschichte  in that it is affirmed only by an assumption of faith.  In addition, such a distinction permits assertions that something may be interpretively “true” (history as significance) that may not be “true” in the sense of objectively verifiable (history as fact).  For such form critics as Bultmann, no continuity exists between the Jesus of history (historie) and the Christ of Faith, i.e., geschichtethe–Christ of the kerygma.[12]

According to form critics like Bultmann, the Jesus of history was a Jewish apocalyptist who died a tragic death and remains dead, while the “Risen Christ” is a mythological concept of the early church that reinterpreted the dead Jesus as the risen “Son of Man” under the influence of Jewish apocalyptic and Gnostic redemption mythology. Bultmann sought to demythologize stories of Jesus’s resurrection, and, in doing so, the resurrection signifies His rising into the kerygma to become the kerygmatic Christ. The basis of such assertions centers in a virulent anti-supernaturalism.[13]

The Prime Impetuses: Evolutionary Conceptions and Unbelief

From its conception, form criticism, as well as its background presupposition of the priority of Mark, was heavily influenced by an underlying assumption of evolution conceptions of simple to complex (for further information, see also discussion of history and presuppositions below).  Kelber insightfully describes Bultmann’s form-critical analysis in the following terms, “it [Bultmann’s concept of the development of the synoptic tradition] was a process as natural as that of biological evolution: simplicity grew into complexity” and his [Bultmann’s] form-critical model as “an effortlessly evolutionary transition from the pre-gospel stream of tradition to the written gospel.”[14]

The fundamental assumption (presupposition) “which makes form criticism both necessary and possible” reveals an evolutionary-driven philosophy encrusted in the following terms: “the tradition consists basically of individual sayings and narratives joined together in the Gospels by the work of the authors.”[15]  These individual sayings and narratives circulated as isolated, independent units before being fixed in written form.[16]  This assumed oral period usually is identified as existing somewhere between 30/33 and 60/70 C.E. or between the death of Christ and the composition of the earliest written Christian documents, hence a period of about thirty years.[17]

Guthrie, however, notes the peril of any such dogmatic speculation regarding an oral period: “The very fact that our historical data for the first thirty years of Christian history are so limited means that form critics inevitably had to draw a good deal on imagination, although none of them were conscious of doing so.”[18] Thus, at its very heart, form criticism is acutely subjective. Since form critics contend that the passion narrative circulated as a continuous narrative, why could not other narratives also (e.g. Mark 1:21-39:2:1-3:6)?[19]  The highly credible works of Birger Gerhardsson and Harald Riesenfeld reveals that the Jews were capable of tremendous feats of memorization that would indicate the stability of the tradition rather than instability as posited by form criticism.[20]  Furthermore, a very credible case can be made that short narratives written by the eyewitness apostles may have existed.[21]  These latter two points have been too readily dismissed by New Testament scholars as a whole, most likely because they would inherently refute the acutely dogmatic positions that currently predominate in both the source and form criticism.

Furthermore, the hypothesis of evolution has continued to dominate the second generation of form critics.  For example, although Caird rejected the more “radical” conclusions of earlier or radical form critics like Bultmann, especially in terms of the historicity of the tradition, he supported the validity of much of form-critical principles.  He boldly asserts, “Nobody is likely to dispute that some process of natural selection  [italics mine] has been at work in the formulation of the gospel tradition.”[22]

Due to philosophically-motivated prejudices, rather than accepting the gospels coming from disciples whose names the Gospels bore (e.g. Matthew, John) and who were eyewitnesses of the deeds and sayings of Jesus during his earthly life or contemporaries of eyewitnesses (Mark, Luke), form critics allege that the gospels reflect the Post-Easter faith of the early church that functioned as the repository for these stories. The gospel tradition reflects the teaching of the early church not Jesus and resulted long after any eyewitness period. Similar to biological evolution that must postulate long periods of time for the origin of species, form critics sees a gradual development of the gospel tradition, long after any eyewitness period. For example, Bultmann argues that although the “date of the gospels cannot be accurately determined,” Mark “was not the work of a disciple of Jesus or a member of the primitive community; and the same is true of Matthew and Luke.”  He asserts that Mark was the oldest gospel being composed around C.E. 70 and goes on to argue that “The composition of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke may be placed in the period from 70-100 A.D., probably nearer 100 than 70.”[23] Thus, direct attestation to Jesus’ words are not available, and indeed, the Gospels do not reflect Jesus’ words but the thinking of the Christian community. Lightfoot, whose work served as the bridge between form and redaction criticism,[24] asserted, “It seems, then, that the form of  the earthly no less than of the heavenly Christ is for the most part hidden from us.  For all the inestimable value of the gospels, they yield us little more than a whisper of his voice; we trace in them but the outskirts of his ways.”[25]

Fundamental Contradictions to Form Criticism: Eyewitnesses to and Biographical Interest in the Tradition

Form critics must postulate that the gospels were written well beyond the apostolic period because the acceptance of the concept of eyewitnesses to and a biographical interest in the Gospel tradition stands in direct contradiction to form criticism as well as affirms the stability of the tradition. Significantly, in Bultmann’s History of the Synoptic Tradition, the term “eyewitness” does not even occur.  The lack of eyewitness involvement is a basic presupposition of early form critics.  Nineham comments, “According to form-critics, eyewitnesses played little direct part in the development of the Gospel tradition, however much they may have had to do with its original formulation . . . this opinion is no accidental or peripheral feature of the form-critical position” especially since “characteristics” and “key features” [of form-critical analysis] “are incompatible with any theory of much direct eye-witness influence after the initial stage.”[26] However, the form critic, Dibelius, was forced to admit the strategic significance of the presence of eyewitnesses for the tradition: “At the period when eyewitnesses of Jesus were still alive, it was not possible to mar the picture of Jesus in the tradition.”[27]

Form critics postulate that through time and the changing conditions of the various Christian communities, these stories of Jesus gradually acquired accretions (i.e. fabrications and embellishments) that were not original, especially miraculous elements. Varied individual circumstances of the Christian communities determined what accretions were added and how such accretions took shape.  The early church was interested not in the tradition for historical and literary purposes but for proclamation concerns of the church (e.g. preaching).  Dibelius notes,

The first understanding afforded by the standpoint of Formgeschichte is that there never was a “purely” historical witness to Jesus. Whatever was told of Jesus’ words and deeds was always a testimony of faith as formulated for preaching and exhortation in order to convert unbelievers and confirm the faithful. What founded Christianity was not knowledge about a historical process, but the confidence that the content of the story was salvation: the decisive beginning of the End . . . .

[Form Criticism] . . . undertakes to portray that the understanding of the story of Jesus, by which the various formulations of the material are dominated.”[28]

However, Dibelius was not quite as radical as Bultmann regarding historical judgments, for he asserts at times, “That the words of Jesus were preserved, that they were put together to form ‘speeches’ with a single theme, and . . . that the sayings and parables were edited in the interest of exhortation, shows the Church’s concern for shaping the life according to the commands of the Master.”[29] The form critic, Ernst Käsemann, remarks, “[T]he work of the Form Critics was designed to show that the message of Jesus as given to us by the synoptists is, for the most part, not authentic but was minted by the faith of the primitive Christian community in its various stages.”[30]

Guthrie strikes at the heart of the matter:

[T]his type of form criticism is based on a definite presupposition regarding the earliest Christian period. It first is assumed that all the synoptic gospel records are community products and it then follows automatically that they become witnesses to the actual life and teaching of the church rather than to the life and teaching of Jesus.[31]

Thus, according to the developers of form criticism, the words of Jesus effectively have been lost due conversion motivations of the early church. No biographical interest existed in the Christian community to preserve the words of Jesus. Thus, basic to form criticism is the assumption that through time a change (evolution) in the transmission of material occurred.

A strong case, however, for the dating of the gospels and the New Testament as whole during the eyewitnesses period can be made.  Interestingly, the liberal John A. T. Robinson, who formerly dated the New Testament as late reconstructions similar to the position of form critics, i.e. from C.E. 70 to early in the second century, now concludes after a rigorous re-analysis that all 27 New Testament were produced in approximately the two decades before C.E. 70 and that they are the work of the Apostles themselves or their contemporaries. He insightfully concludes, “[I]f the chronology of the documents and the pattern of development should turn out to be anything like what I have suggested, then there will be scope for numerous new trajectories to be drawn and for the rewriting of many introductions to–and ultimately theologies of–the New Testament.  For dates remain disturbingly fundamental data.”[32]

Not only may the early dating of the New Testament and the subsequent role of eyewitness be affirmed, but the New Testament indicates a fundamental biographical interests of the Christian community in the words and deeds of Jesus Christ, e.g., 1 Corinthians 7:10 where Paul distinguishes his words from those of Jesus; Luke 1:1-4 where Luke indicates that many had drawn up accounts based on reports handed down (“handed down”–parevdosan)  to them from those who were “eyewitnesses and servants” (aujtovptai kai; uJphrevtai) from the very beginning (ap j ajrch‘”) of Jesus ministry and that his research was based on careful investigation (ajkribw‘”) of those eyewitness accounts; Acts and other New Testament books contain constant appeal by first century Christians that they were eyewitnesses of the events about which they spoke (e.g. Acts 2:32; 3:15; 10:41; 1 Cor. 15:1-8).

If the fact of eyewitnesses be accepted, then the concept of an unstable oral tradition is untenable for those eyewitnesses provide a guard against any substantial variation. If the apostles and their eyewitness contemporaries wrote the 27 books of the New Testament, then the New Testament offers no actual support to the form-critical evolutionary hypothesis of the tradition as brief, rounded units circulating for long periods of time that eventually were placed into a gospel record by the “Christian community.” Instead, the Gospels reflect the personal reminiscences of eyewitnesses.  As a result, the primary circulation of the tradition evidenced in the 27 documents of the New Testament is that which occurred in the minds of the apostles and their eyewitness contemporaries as they composed their works based on either their own personal reminiscences or those of other eyewitnesses (cf. Luke 1:1-4)!  They are the true repository of the tradition reflected in New Testament rather than some later, hypothetical and nebulous entity known as the “Christian community.”

The Goals of Form Criticism

Because form criticism assumes a basic change in the gospel material, form critics apply certain form criteria or laws of tradition (e.g., length of episode, addition of details, presence of Semitisms) that are considered valid for determining the relative age (antiquity), original form, and historical veracity of the tradition reflected in the written sources (i.e., the gospels).  Although more will be said regarding these criteria and others (“criteria of authenticity”), such criteria are also heavily based on evolutionary assumptions of gradually increasing complexity, a presuppositional antisupernatural bias against miraculous elements and the assumption that proposed “laws” of folk tradition can be applied to the gospel tradition in order to determine what aspects are late accretions and modifications (i.e., inauthentic).  Bultmann contended,

The laws governing the formulation of popular narrative and tradition may be studied in detail in the material which the Synoptists handed down. The first thing we observe is that the narrators do not give us long unified accounts but rather small single pictures, individual scenes narrated with the utmost simplicity. These always occupy but a brief space of time; apart from the Passion narrative no event or proceeding is narrated which covers more than two days. As a rule, only two speaking characters appear in these scenes, or at most three, involved proceedings are beyond the powers of the simple story teller.  Where groups or crowds are present, they are treated as a unity.  As such narratives pass from mouth to mouth, or when one writer takes them over from another, their fundamental character remains the same, but the details are subject to the control of fancy and are usually made more explicit or definite.[33]

Bultmann continues,

 This last task, viz., the study of the laws which govern literary transmission, can be approached by observing the manner in which the Marcan material was altered by Matthew and Luke; and also how Matthew and Luke worked over what they took from the Logia. Here we observe a certain regular procedure which becomes still more evident when we carry the investigation to a later tradition, particularly to the apocryphal gospels, and see how in these the gospel material received further literary development. . . . The ability to make the necessary distinctions can be developed by studying the general laws which govern popular transmission of stories and traditions in other instances, for example, in the case of folk-tales, anecdotes, and folk- songs.[34]

During this oral period, form critics postulate that these individual units of tradition were shaped by the early church as they were continually recounted by preachers, teachers and story-tellers as the occasion warranted.  Davies summarizes the form-critical posture well,

It is the first assumption of Form Critics that the Gospels are from the Church, by the Church, for the Church. The tradition about the works and words of Jesus was transmitted by the churches scattered around the Mediterranean; their evangelists, preachers, teachers, and exorcists used it and molded it, and even created parts of it.  It was the needs of the churches in worship, in catechism, in apologetic, in exhortation, and in other ways that determined what tradition was transmitted and how it was used.[35]

Over time and as these fabricated accretions were gradually added, Gospel literature, assumed by form critics to be parallel to other forms of folk literature, took on definite or fixed forms through constant repetition. These forms varied according to the function that they served in the Christian community, e.g., preaching, teaching, worship, instruction, or apologetics.  The technical term in form criticism that refers to that sociological setting within the life of the early Church that gave rise to the particular rhetorical forms (e.g. legends, sayings, miracle stories) is called Sitz im Leben (lit. “setting in life” or “life situation”).[36]  Hermann Gunkel first employed this term in his form-critical analysis of the Old Testament. Dibelius and Bultmann, influenced by Gunkel, applied the concept to the New Testament, especially the Gospel materials under the assumption that they had existed in oral form prior to being written down in the Gospels.[37]

Yet, both Dibelius and Bultmann conceptualized different Sitz im Lebens that gave rise to the tradition. While Dibelius asserted that the Sitz im Leben of the material centered in the preaching of the early church,[38] Bultmann hypothesized that the Sitz im Leben centered in apologetic concerns.[39] Furthermore, Bultmann asserted that while most of the formative process took place in the Palestinian communities, miracle stories and legends took place in the Hellenistic community which, according to Bultmann were more gullibly prone to add miraculous embellishments.[40]

Eventually, according to form criticism, the anonymous gospel writers collected and arranged these numerous individual stories into a written narrative (i.e., gospel) that reflected the needs and interests of their particular community. Presuppositionally (see below under history and presuppositions), form critics also assume the evolutionary-driven two- (German—Holtzmann) or four-source (British—Streeter) hypothesis (a.k.a. The Two-Document Hypothesis) that contends that an evangelist identified as Mark wrote his gospel first. Utilizing both Mark and a hypothetical (i.e., postulated, non-extant) document known as “Q” (German, Quelle or “source”),[41]  the  unknown evangelists identified as “Matthew” and “Luke” (generally assumed by form critics not to be written by the individuals whose names the Gospels bear) composed their respective gospels. However, to form critics, the gospel writers were mere collectors of tradition rather than unique contributors.  Dibelius argues, “The authors of the Gospels, at least of the synoptics are not ‘authors’ in the literary sense but collectors.  We are not, therefore, concerned first of all with their knowledge of the subject matters, but with the knowledge of those who gave the tradition its form, and this taking form was not mediated by authors but by preachers.”[42]  Bultmann remarks, “Mark is not sufficiently master of his material to be able to venture on a systematic construction himself.”[43]

In light of these foundational constructions of form criticism, Dibelius delineated the purpose of form criticism in the following terms:

The method of Formgeschichte has a twofold objective.  In the first place, by reconstruction and analysis, it seeks to explain the origin of the tradition about Jesus, and thus to penetrate into a period previous to that in which our Gospels and their written sources were recorded. But it has a further purpose. It seeks to make clear the intention and real interest of the earliest tradition. We must show with what objective the first churches recounted stories about Jesus, passed them from mouth to mouth as independent narratives, or copied them from papyrus to papyrus. In the same manner we must examine the sayings of Jesus and ask with what intention these churches collected them, learnt them by heart and wrote them down. The present-day reader should learn to read the individual passages of the early tradition in the way they were meant, before the time when, more or less edited, they were included in the Gospels.[44]

However, Dibelius immediately admits a further purpose and design of form criticism:

The method of Formgeschichte seeks to help in answering the historical questions as to the nature and trustworthiness of our knowledge of Jesus, and also in solving a theological problem properly so-called.  It shows in what way the earliest testimony about Jesus was interwoven with the earliest testimony about salvation which appeared in Jesus Christ.  Thereby it attempts to emphasize and illuminate the chief elements of the message upon which Christianity  was founded.[45]

Similarly, Bultmann writes that the purpose of form criticism is: “discovering what the original units of the Synoptics were, both sayings and stories, to try to establish what their historical setting was, whether they belong to a primary or secondary tradition or whether they were the product of editorial activity.”[46] To Bultmann, “the aim of form-criticism is to determine the original form of a piece of narrative, a dominical saying or a parable. In the process, we learn to distinguish secondary additions and forms, and these, in turn, lead to important results for the history of the tradition.”[47]

In light of these postulates, the methodological practice (i.e., objectives) of form criticism centers generally in three overall activities:  1) classification of the individual pericopes (self-contained units of teaching or narrative) of the gospel materials according to form; 2) assigning each form to a Sitz im Leben or life-situation in the early church from which the material arose and was preserved;  and 3) recovery of the original form of the material during the oral period through laws of tradition (see the section on “tradition criticism”).[48]

The Historical and Presuppositional Background of Form Criticism

A presuppositional and historical review of the development of form criticism is absolutely vital in determining the legitimacy or illegitimacy of form criticism as a hermeneutical discipline.  Importantly, a hermeneutical methodology can only be as legitimate as the presuppositional and historical foundation upon which it is based especially since that foundation provides the raison d’ être for its existence.  If the foundations are hermeneutically tenuous or illegitimate, then the methodology must also be.

Conservative evangelicals who practice form-critical methodologies in isolation from its presuppositional and historical developments place themselves in a precarious position. Any attempts by conservative evangelicals at modifying form-critical principles or practicing the discipline in isolation from its antecedents are tenuous since such a practice largely ignore the justification for the discipline’s existence and merely serve to underscore the dubious validity of form criticism as a legitimate hermeneutical methodology.   The following is a brief sketch of the major historical developments in Gospel criticism that gave rise to form criticism.[49]

Although form criticism is a development of twentieth-century scholarship, its roots center in the period of the Enlightenment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  A “prologue” to the development of form criticism was the deist and rationalist Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768), a professor of Oriental Languages in Hamburg.[50]  During his life, he published a number of works advocating deism, but he is perhaps best remembered for writing a four-thousand-page manuscript entitled Apologie oder Schutzschrift für die vernünftigen Verehrer Gottes (English, “An Apologetic for the Rational Worshipers of God”).  This work remained unpublished during his lifetime.

After Reimarus’s death, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781), motivated by a profound belief in rationalism and historical skepticism from the Enlightenment, published parts of the work between 1774 and 1778 under the title of Fragmente eines Ungenannten.[51]   Two fragments (the sixth and seventh published) received special attention since their purpose was to discredit Christianity. The sixth fragment, Ueber die Auferstehungsgeschichte (English, “Concerning the Resurrection Story”—1777) attempted to trump up inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection and asserted that the evangelists were mistaken as to the fact of the resurrection.  The seventh fragment, Von dem Zwecke Jesu und seiner Jünger (English, “On the Purpose of Jesus and His Disciples”–1778), contended that Jesus was an unsuccessful political messianic pretender and that the disciples were disappointed charlatans who stole the body of Jesus and invented the Christian faith rather than go back to work for a living after the crucifixion.[52]

The significance of Reimarus’s work centers in the fact that in the age of deism, rationalism, and skepticism of the Enlightenment, the Gospels were increasingly dismissed as historical documents and instead were interpreted as dogmatic and theological documents designed to promote belief rather than convey factual accounts. Schweitzer summarizes the significance of Reimarus’s work for developing gospel criticism: Reimarus shows the necessity of assuming “a creative element in the tradition” to which are ascribed “the miracles, the stories which turn on the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, the universalistic traits and the predictions of the passion and the resurrection.”[53]  Perrin states of Reimarus’s significance that he is the father of “Life of Jesus research altogether.”[54]

The next significant development toward form criticism was the work of David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874)[55] who popularized the “mythical” view of Scripture.  Strauss characterized Reimarus as one of Christianity’s “most courageous and worthy representatives” of biblical criticism in the eighteenth century.[56]  While Strauss praised Reimarus, he also admired the skeptic and anti-supernaturalist, David Hume.  Strauss remarked that “Hume’s Essay on Miracles in particular carries with it such general conviction, that the question [of the impossibility of miracles] may be regarded as having been virtually settled.”[57]

Yet, the views of Strauss were close to that of Reimarus.  In 1862, Strauss published a tribute to Reimarus who maintained a rationalistic interpretation of Jesus’s life.[58]   In 1835-36, Strauss wrote Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet (“The Life of Jesus Critically Examined”) that set forth the concept of “myth” in the Gospel accounts.  Strauss removed any element of the supernatural from history, especially biblical history. He saw a closed continuum of cause and effect that admitted no divine intervention. To Strauss, whenever the biblical data presents the supernatural or abnormal, the mythopoeic faculty has been at work.  Although Strauss allowed a minimal historical framework for the life of Jesus, he considered the vast majority of material in the Gospels to be myth.[59]  Neill remarks regarding this work that “if Strauss’s interpretation of the Gospels came to be accepted, Christianity, as it has been understood through the centuries, would come to an end in a generation.”[60] The renowned form critic Rudolf Bultmann would also follow Strauss’s tactic of myth in the pursuit of his form-critical analysis of the Gospels.[61]

While the virulent antisupernaturalism of the Enlightenment caused the Gospels to be viewed as dogmatic and theological documents rather than historical, another significant presuppositional development occurred that would stimulate the development of both source and form criticism: the hypothesis of evolution. Although popularized by Charles Darwin (1809-82) in his Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871), evolutionary concepts are ancient, and Darwin was by no means original with the hypothesis.[62] Hutchison relates, “Few factors have influenced Western thinking during the past two centuries more than the writings of Charles Darwin.”[63] Evolutionary ideas had a strong, quick, and saturating impact in Britain (Darwin’s homeland) and in Germany where many of the new theories regarding the origin and development of the New Testament were being germinated during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[64] However, currently, a trend exists toward more sober assessment of the true nature of evolution, not as a science but as a faith postulate based on philosophical naturalism.  This assessment is not coming exclusively from those who may be pejoratively labeled as “fighting fundies” but also from secular sources.[65]

In terms of Old Testament, the Documentary Hypothesis or the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis originated during the height of the popularity of evolution in philosophical circles.[66]  Rejecting Mosaic authorship, it posits a gradual development (long after Moses) of the Old Testament from simple documents (JEDP) into the complexity of the Pentateuch.[67] The hypothesis developed in the backdrop of philosophical speculations of the rationalist and pantheist Spinoza (who suggested Ezra composed the Torah), the deists, Hegelianism, and the increasing popularity of evolutionary philosophy. Twentieth century scholarship has tended to discount the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis.[68]

Evolutionary thought thoroughly permeates the Two- (popularized and synthesized by Heinrich J. Holtzmann [1832-1910] in Die Synoptischen Evangelien [1863] in Germany) and Four-Document Hypotheses (popularized by Burnett Hillman Streeter [1874-1937] in The Four Gospels-[1924] in Britain) that assume the priority of Mark as the earliest. These Two- and Four-Document hypotheses also stand as important presuppositions since form criticism assumes these hypotheses as working bases for form-critical analysis.[69]  Here again, the idea of simple to complex is seen in that Mark (, the alleged “Q” source (Quelle), material peculiar to Matthew (M), and material peculiar to Luke (L) were combined into the complex documents of Matthew and Luke.[70]  The Two- and Four-Document hypotheses developed at a time in which evolutionary philosophy was rocketing to prominence in Britain and on the continent of Europe (e.g., Germany) in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Farmer, in his work, The Synoptic Problem (1964), insightfully identifies the evolutionary “intellectual climate” of the time as fostering the dominance of the Documentary Hypothesis in source criticism at the end of the nineteenth century.[71]  Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), one of the greatest of evolutionary propagandists, championed the Marcan hypothesis. He wrote: “our canonical second Gospel, the so-called ‘Mark’s’ Gospel) is that which most closely represents the primitive groundwork of the three.  That I take to be one of the most valuable results of New Testament criticism, of immeasurably greater importance than the discussion about dates and authorship.”[72]

In Oxford Studies, Streeter wrote an essay entitled “The Literary Evolution of the Gospels.”[73] William Sanday (1843-1920), the editor of Oxford Studies  was an outstanding propagandists for the British Four Source Theory.  He praised Streeter’s essay with the following:

I do not remember to have seen, within anything like the same compass, a picture at once so complete, so sound, and (to my mind) so thoroughly scientific, of the whole course of development in the Apostolic and sub-Apostolic age in its bearing upon literary composition in general and the composition of the Gospels in particular.  It is a real evolution, and an evolution conceived as growth, in which each stage springs naturally, spontaneously, and inevitably out of the last.[74]

Farmer remarks, ‘Darwin’s epoch-making Origin of Species had been published during Sanday’s student days at Oxford, and there is no doubt that in the years following, like many of the best minds of his generation, he [Sanday] drank deeply from the cup of salvation offered by the cult of ‘scientism,’ that is, faith in science.”[75]

In addition, Edwin Abbott (1838-1926) provides another important clue in the acceptance of Mark as the first and most “primitive” gospel: antisupernaturalism. In a major article on the gospels in a 1879 Encyclopedia article, Abbott based his acceptance of the “antiquity” of Mark on the “striking proof” that it does not mention “supernatural events” like Matthew and Luke, i.e. reference to the details of Jesus’ birth (e.g., virgin birth, visit of angels, star in Bethlehem) and “only the barest prediction of His resurrection.”[76] Because Mark was perceived as relatively “simple,” without any reference to the miraculous birth narratives and post-Resurrection appearances, the antisupernatural climate of the time naturally gravitated to the Marcan hypothesis.[77]  Farmer notes, “This article exercised a profound influence upon the Synoptic Problem in England.  Reliable chroniclers of biblical criticism  give it a prominent place.”[78]

Yet, the perceived weakness of source criticism was that it could not push behind these alleged sources into a hypothesized oral period before the gospels took written form.  Source criticism left an alleged gap of some twenty to thirty years between the time of Jesus and the first written documents.  The desire to explore this period would help give rise to form-critical speculation and conjecture.[79] Furthermore, the multiplying of hypothetical sources in source criticism due to the Two- and Four-Document Hypotheses inability to explain the synoptic evidence “increasingly weakened the whole structure of the hypothesis.”[80]

The scholar who was directly responsible for the development of form criticism was Johannes  Heinrich Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932), an Old Testament scholar.  Gunkel applied form-critical analysis to Genesis in his work Sagen der Genesis (English, “The Stories of Genesis”).[81]   In this work, Gunkel acknowledged the work of Old Testament source criticism that negated Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. Instead, under evolutionary influences, he viewed Genesis, as well as the rest of the Pentateuch, as developing gradually over a long period of time (well after the time of Moses), growing out of documents known as JEDP reflected in the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis.[82] Before the documents were written, individual stories existed in oral form and modified (increased in complexity) over a long period of time.[83]

Gunkel also classified the stories of Genesis in light of the purpose (e.g., historical, ethnographical, etiological, ethnological, etymological, and cultic).[84]  Although Gunkel allowed for a bare minimal kernel of historical truth in some stories of Genesis, he held that the stories of Genesis were largely mythological in character, especially the accounts of creation and the flood.[85] Kümmel notes,

  1. L. Schmidt and his like-minded colleagues, M. Dibelius and R. Bultmann, owe the most potent stimuli to the writings of the man who, after having cooperated in founding the history-of-religions school, transferred his interests to Old Testament Research–Herman Gunkel. Gunkel’s method of recovering the original traditions and of discovering the spiritual presuppositions of the formation of these traditions (Sitz im Leben or “life situation”)–a method applied especially to the Old Testament legends of the patriarchs and to the Old Testament songs–prepared the way in decisive fashion for the investigation of the gospel traditions by K. L. Schmidt and the other form critics.”[86]

 The Old Testament scholar and form critic, Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) also helped take took form-critical methodologies into New Testament studies. He helped form a bridge between Old and New Testament studies.[87] Wellhausen, in his Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien, makes three points about Mark that developed eventually into major form-critical axioms: 1) the original source for material in the Gospel is oral tradition that circulated independently in small units; 2) the material was brought together and redacted in various ways and at various stages, only one of which was the evangelist; and 3) the material gives us information about the beliefs and circumstances of the early church as well as Jesus’s ministry.[88] In his Das Evangelium Marci (1903), Wellhausen contended that the primitive tradition reflected in Mark was overlaid with editorial additions (i.e. accretions) influenced by early church theology rather than reflecting the historical situation of Jesus.  Wellhausen’s hypothesis helped give impetus to the form-critical speculation that the origin shaping of the material was not due to apostolic eyewitnesses but to the Christian community.[89]

For a time, source criticism had postulated that Mark was the earliest gospel, and although it reflected mythological elements like the other Gospels (Matthew, Luke, John), Mark reflected somewhat more primitive historicity than the other gospels, i.e., Mark was closest to the point of time of the original eyewitnesses so that it could be used with relative confidence as a historical source.  However, Wilhelm Wrede (1859-1906), in Das Messiasgeheimnis in den Evangelien (“The Messianic Secret”–1901) would undertake a similar tactic to Reimarus in rejecting the historicity of Mark and asserting that Mark’s gospel represents creative, dogmatic ideas which the evangelist imposed on the tradition, i.e.,  Jesus never claimed to be Messiah during his lifetime; the church superimposed this post-Resurrection idea upon the lips of Jesus.[90]  Perrin remarks that “Wilhelm Wrede (1859-1906) . . . sounded the death knell” regarding the historicity of Mark “by demonstrating that a major aspect of the Marcan narratives was precisely the ‘mythic.'”[91]

Although Wrede’s view was at first strongly criticized,[92] it exerted a powerful influence on early form critics who assumed as a presupposition that the framework of the gospel narratives was suspect and the contextual framework of the stories of little importance.[93]  Bultmann, for example, concurred with Wrede’s conclusions, arguing that Mark is not history because it “is really dominated by the theology of the Church and by a dogmatic conception of Christ.”[94]  Benoit relates, “This [Wrede’s view] is exactly the same attitude adopted by the Form Critics.  All they add to Wrede’s position is a more methdological research into the way in which Christian dogma was created and elaborated by the primitive Community.”[95]

With a very large portion of New Testament scholars viewing Mark as “mythical” and dogmatic (theological) rather than historical, the road now opened for the work of Karl Ludwig Schmidt (1891-1956).  In his work, Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesu (1919) Schmidt concentrated on the chronological and geographical framework imposed on Mark by the evangelist. Schmidt asserted that the episodes of the Gospel accounts were isolated units of tradition linked together by the author (like pearls on a string). References to time, place, and geography did not form part of the episodes and had little value. The evangelist strung the episodes together unhistorically and artificially. Schmidt concluded his work with the following, “On the whole there is [in the Gospels] no life of Jesus in the sense of a developing story, as a chronological outline of the history of Jesus, but only isolated stories, pericopes,  which have been provided with a framework.”[96]

With the elimination of the belief in the integrity of the chronological and geographical framework on the Synoptics, the units of material tied together by that framework were left in isolation.  These episodes came from the Christian community among whom they circulated in independent form.  Schmidt speculated that these independent pericopes arose due to the development of Christian tradition of worship.  However, Schmidt did not utilize the tools of form criticism to pry into an alleged oral period of the Gospels.[97]

Martin Dibelius (1883-1947) and Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) fully developed and refined form criticism in the New Testament.  Dibelius was the first to apply form criticism to the synoptic tradition in his Die Formgeschichte des Evangeliums (1919; English title, From Tradition to Gospel—1934).  The term formgeschichte (English, “form criticism” or “history”) originated from Dibelius’s use of it in his title.[98]  Dibelius worked out a system for identifying the isolated gospel episodes and worked out a method for classifying their form.

Rudolf Bultmann is associated more closely with form than Dibelius or Schmidt and is most responsible for the thoroughness and maturation of the method.  Bultmann’s epoch-making work was Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (1921) [English title, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 1963].[99]  Evolutionary dogma heavily influenced Bultmann in the formulation of his system.  Because many of his professors came from the history-of-religions school, he was an advocate of that evolutionary system of thought and made significant contributions to the work of this group.[100] Bultmann’s professor for his dissertation (Der Stil der paulinischen Predigt und kynisch-stoische Diatribe, [“The Style of Pauline Sermon and Cynic-Stoic Diatribe”]—1910) was the history-of-religions proponent Heitmüller.  He also dedicated his primary work, History of the Synoptic Tradition, to Heitmüller.  Hermann Gunkel, the renown Old Testament form critic and history-of-religions advocate, was also one of Bultmann’s professors during his years as a student at Berlin University.[101]  In 1921, Bultmann became Bousset’s successor at Giessen, and in 1921 succeeded Heitmüller at Marburg.

 Philosophically, Bultmann was also heavily influenced by Kant.  Morgan writes, “His theology was shaped above all by the pious neo-Kantianism of his teacher Herrmann (1846-1922), a devout follower of Ritschl (1822-89).”[102]  The existentialist thinking of Kierkegaard and especially Heidegger also deeply influenced Bultmann.[103]  Becoming disillusioned with the historical Jesus of the liberal school, Bultmann sought to emancipate the need for historical demonstration of the Christian faith.  For Bultmann, the most important element in Christian faith was an existential encounter (“a leap of faith”) that demanded decision apart from historical proof.[104]

An important motivation of Bultmann in the development of his form-critical speculations also was the desire to “modernize” the gospels.[105] His approach was one of demythologization of gospel record.  Strauss’s concept of “myth” heavily influenced Bultmann.[106]  To Bultmann, the canonical gospels contain pre-scientific conceptions of the world of nature and men that were quite outdated by modern scientific knowledge.[107]  In his work, Kerygma and Myth I, Bultmann defines myth in the following terms, “Myth is used here in the sense popularized by the ‘History of Religions’ school.  Mythology is the use of imagery to express the other worldly in terms of this world and the divine in terms of human life, the other side in terms of this side.”[108] To Bultmann, miraculous conceptions of a Divine Being or Son of God, demon possession, angels, resurrection, voices from heaven, etc. are first century man’s primitive understanding of the world that needs to be reinterpreted (demythologized) in twentieth century terms.[109] He sought to “demythologize” the gospels and recast the material in modern form according to twentieth century understanding of world: “Man’s knowledge and mastery of the world have advanced to such an extent through science and technology that it is no longer possible for anyone seriously to hold the New Testament view of the world—in fact, there is no one who does.”[110]  This naturally focused the attention on literary forms in the gospel and the desire to discover the “essence of the gospel apart from these ‘forms’ (e.g. miracle stories).”[111]

To Bultmann, the form critic must discover the historical- or life-situation (Sitz im Leben) that gave rise to the literary materials in the gospels.  Bultmann asserted that the gospel material, rather than reflecting the historical situation of Jesus, owed its present shape to the practical needs of the community, i.e. the gospels reflect the post-Easter beliefs of the Christian community rather than the pre-Easter period.[112]  At the heart of Bultmann’s method was the removal of any supernatural elements in the Gospels because of his presuppositional conclusion of a closed-continuum of cause-effect as advocated by Troeltsch’s historical-critical approach.[113]  The effect of all these presuppositions shows acutely on the  Bultmann when he asserts, “I do indeed think that we now can know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary; and other sources about Jesus do not exist.”[114]

Two strategic differences existed between Dibelius and Bultmann.  First, Dibelius started with the activity of the early church (“In the sermon the elements of the future Christian literature lay side by side as in a mother cell”)[115] and traced the history of forms from this early church tradition to their final incorporation in the gospels.  Butlmann, however, worked back from the Gospel material toward alleged earlier forms, trying also to determine the “original” form and what later accretions were made to the tradition that eventually resulted in the Gospels.[116]

Secondly, Bultmann ascribed a greater element of creativity (fabricative embellishment) to the tradition of the early church than did Dibelius.[117]  Dibelius saw the evangelists as collectors of material and hence a greater possibility of determining the original form and function in the community’s life while Bultmann saw a much more radical working of the material so that the tradition did not reflect a historical core, i.e. the voice of Jesus was lost. Taylor’s words are pertinent: “Dibelius is liberal rather than radical; Bultmann is radical to the point of skepticism, and it is not strange that he has been looked upon as Strauss Redivivus.  If Bultmann is right, we have not only lost the Synoptic framework but also much the greater part of the material.”[118]  Yet, common to both was a rejection of the miraculous and therefore, they both rejected the historicity of the gospel in such areas.  Their rejection, as was the case with the historical rise and development of form criticism, centered in philosophical and theological presuppositions.

Yet, “this difference is one of emphasis rather than essence.”[119]  However, because “Bultmann submitted the entire synoptic tradition to a searching analysis” Bultmann’s “name and method of analysis have been more closely associated with form criticism than has the name of Dibelius.”[120] Furthermore, Butlmann’s approach was more radical and far more influential and widespread than Dibelius.

Thus, the historical and presuppositional background for the development of form criticism was virulent antisupernaturalistic presuppositions: deism, rationalism, historical skepticism, and evolution are only the most salient examples.  Taylor, although favoring form critical analysis, candidly remarks, “Before the nineteenth century the investigation of the formation of the Gospel tradition was almost impossible.”[121] The history just traced is termed by McKnight as “The Necessity for the Discipline.”[122] Without the impact of such hostile presuppositions, form criticism may not have developed as a discipline.  They provided the fertile background for its emergence.  After a thorough analysis of form criticism, Benoit insightfully comments, “all the principles of Form-criticism . . . seem to have little real foundation and to be instead instruments in service of a cause.  The idea is to withdraw all historical value from the gospel tradition in so far as it enshrines the supernatural.”  He goes on to note,

When we become aware of the spirit which inspires all these proceedings [i.e. form criticism and its historical antecedents] we pass from the less to the better known.  Behind all these relatively new methods . . . we discover one fundamental thesis which is not itself new at all.  This is the denial of the supernatural which we are so accustomed to meeting in works of modern rationalist criticism.  It is a thesis which, once it is stripped of its various masks, literary, historical or sociological analysis, reveals its true identify—it is a philosophical one [italics added].

For it is the philosophy of the 17th and 18th century which has left his denial of the supernatural embedded in the minds of today, particularly the philosophy of Hegel which has had a dominant influence on German thought, and still holds sway today.

This it is which as a matter of cold fact lies at the root of rationalist biblical criticism, beginning with David Strauss, a disciple of Hegel, and his theory of myth, whose faithful heirs Dibelius and Bultmann are.[123]

Conservative evangelicals must ever keep the historical and presuppositional developments that lead to form criticism in mind whenever discussions of its legitimacy as a hermeneutical methodology arise no matter how far evangelicals choose to “modify” the discipline (i.e. “those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them”).  Form criticism is a product of virulent antisupernaturalism encrusted with evolutionary dogma.  Moreover, negative philosophical presuppositions led to a dismantling of the pericopes of the gospels.  Since a credible case can be built for the historical, chronological and geographical integrity of the Gospel pericopes apart from the influence of these negative presuppositions, then any dismantling of them into isolated pericopes via form criticism is tenuous.[124]

Classification of Forms

Space limitations prevent a detailed discussion of various systems of form classification.[125] Instead, this section will summarize various critiques of form analysis.

In dealing with form criticism as historically developed and expressed, systems of form classification reveal the acute subjectivity and antisupernatural basis of the discipline.  Moreover, form critics spend most of their time in this area. For example, Bultmann, in his History of the Synoptic Tradition, spends 306 pages of the work (parts I-II) in attempting to categorize and classify forms.  Yet, although similar categories may appear frequently, no universally agreed-upon list of forms exists.[126]

Furthermore, often classification of form does not center on form but on content, especially when miraculous or supernatural elements are present. A few examples of this must suffice due to space limitations.  Bultmann’s category of “Historical Stories and Legends” demonstrates a pronounced antihistorical and antisupernatural bias. These are stories about extraordinary events in the lives of well-known people, e.g., Jesus’s baptism, temptation, transfiguration, and resurrection narratives, the ministry of John the Baptist, etc. that serve as examples to avoid or follow.   Bultmann argues that “instead of being historical in character are religious and edifying.”[127]  They are not properly miracle stories (which Bultmann separates) but often contain miraculous element.[128] Even though he uses the alternate name “Historical Stories,” this does not indicate that he believes the stories to be historically true.  Bultmann remarks, “If at the same time I naturally do not deny that historical happenings may underlie legends, I mean that ‘unhistorical’ applies to the idea of legend negatively in the sense that legends not only ‘have no special interest in history’ (Dibelius) but that they are not, in the modern scientific sense, historical accounts at all.”[129]

Dibelius category of “myth” designates “stories which in some fashion tell of many-sided doings of the gods.”[130]  These are narratives where the  supernatural invades the human scene to authentic Jesus.  Dibelius’s category overlaps with Bultmann’s category of legend here since Bultmann did not have a corresponding “myth” category thus subtly revealing the acute subjectivity and identification difficulty of form-critical systems of classification.

Although Dibelius allows for more a more historical basis for the story of Jesus, he asserts: “The only narratives in the Gospels which really describe a mythological event, i.e. a many-sided interaction between mythological but not human persons, are the records of the Baptismal miracle [Mark 1:9-11 and //], the Temptation of Jesus [Mark 1:12-13 and //], and the Transfiguration[Mark 9:2-8 and //].”[131]  However, in spite of this qualification, Dibelius also rejected the resurrection and ascension of Jesus relegating such stories to myth, i.e.,  unhistorical.[132]

However, Dibelius goes on to assert that a Christ mythology arose late in the process of the traditions formation evidenced in the letters of Paul:

The letters of Paul are an unambiguous proof that there once was a Christ mythology.  At the same time they are proof that this mythology could not be supported directly from the tradition of the life of Jesus.  For Paul knew this tradition to some extent (I Cor. xi, 15), and if he had needed it he could have made its acquaintance much more closely but the Christ-myth through which for his churches he explains the great act of Divine redemption, had no need of the data handed down.  This myth told the story of the Son of God who abandoned his cosmically intermediate place; in obedience to the Will of God he suffered a human fate, even to death on the Cross; he was finally raised by the power of God form the deepest humiliation to the status of “Lord” to whom all the world owed honour till He should come to conquer His enemies and to rule His Kingdom.[133]

For Dibelius, over time, miraculous elements were added to the historical Jesus (e.g. Jesus’s descent from his heavenly realm to the earth, His resurrection, and ascension back to heaven) that did not constitute an original part of the gospel tradition but were later accretions from Hellenistic influences.[134]

Moreover, the category of “legend” or “myth” is quite artificial.  Travis notes, “to describe ‘legends’ or ‘myths’ as forms when no common shape is discernible . . . is not form criticism.”[135]  Such categories indicate a presuppositional agenda and bias rather than form categorization.

The category of “miracle stories” (Bultmann) or “tales” (Dibelius) is another example where antisupernatural presuppositional biases affect form analysis.  Importantly, the basis of the category is the nature of the miracle, not the form.  Bultmann, affected by the religionsgeschichtliche schule (“history-of-religions school”) and also by a pronounced negativity toward the miraculous, asserted,

Yet it would not be right to consider the gospel miracle stories in the bounds of the NT only.  The less the miracle stories as such are truly historical reports the more we need to ask how they have found their way into the Gospel tradition.  And even if some historical events underlie some miracles of healing, it is still true that their narrative form has been the work of Tradition.  And even if the motifs have grown up spontaneously in the early Church, there would be both central and peripheral motifs taken over from popular and even perhaps literary miracle stories . . . . The process of transferring some available miracle story to a hero (or healer or even a god) is frequently to found in the history of literature and religion.[136]

Bultmann, evidencing his evolutionary bias, argues that over time “an increase of the miraculous element is also to be found in particular features.”[137]  Reflecting this concept, in Mark 10:46-52 Bultmann asserts, “This story shows its secondary character in giving the name of the blind man . . . and it is the only name in any miracle story in the synoptics, apart from Mark 5:22.”[138]  However, as Guthrie remarks, “Both Dibelius and Bultmann reject the miraculous and therefore the historicity of the Gospel accounts of miracles.  This is not so much on the basis of ‘form’ as on philosophical and theological grounds.”[139]

Furthermore, pagan folklore tales of the miraculous are hypothesized to be parallel to the gospel material and also explain the rise of miraculous stories in the tradition.  Working from the evolutionary presuppositional stance that dominated the history-of-religions School, Bultmann cites many pagan miracle stories in an attempt to justify this conclusion that gospel miracle stories of are the same type, and there must be regarded as unhistorical.[140] Yet, the alleged parallels cited are qualitatively different in content.  Even Bultmann must admit, “In general, however, the New Testament miracle stories are extremely reserved in this respect [in describing cures], since they hesitate to attribute to the person of Jesus the magical traits which were often characteristic of the Hellenistic miracle worker.”[141] Gospel miracle stories have no magical incantations and fanciful activities that markedly distinguish them from Hellenistic stories.

Furthermore, the folklore analogy, in reality, is fallacious since folklore took hundreds of years to develop.  Only a maximum period of about 20-30 years hypothetically existed between Jesus and the Gospels, and reasonable evidence exists that the period may have been even shorter.  Kenyon notes, “There is simply not time for elaborate processes of literary workmanship and development.[142]

In addition, Dibelius hypothesized that a special class of story-tellers and teachers were involved in the development of “tales.”[143]  However, as Guthrie argues, “the distinction seems to have been created by Dibelius’ analysis rather than being vouched for by independent historical testimony.”[144]   Apart from the stories themselves, no evidence exists in the New Testament for those who told stories about Jesus without preaching.

Strategically, Redlich notes that much of the synoptic material defies classification according to form-critical categories:

We conclude therefore that the assumption that the material can be classified according to their form is only true in part and in a very restricted manner.  The only classification that can be made is that (a) as regards the sayings, there is a group with form, if we omit poetical form, namely the Parables, and (b) the narrative portions contains two groups which possess form, namely Apothegm-Stories and Miracle-Stories.  The greater part of the material is “form”-less.”[145]

Even after Bultmann’s exhaustive analysis, Lightfoot echoed a similar statement in reference to Mark 1-13:

It is likely that the material will prove too complex and difficult for such rigorous treatment; and for the present at any rate it will suffice to draw attention to the two main kinds of stories about Jesus which are found in our earliest gospels … a saying of his is the climax or at least the leading feature of the story; in the second, the emphasis is on an act of power done by him …  It seems at least possible that the new study has here achieved a valuable and lasting result, and that it has succeeded in distinguishing and classifying two types of stories, both of which are prominent in Mark.[146]

One may only wonder about the value of a method that has, according to Redlich, the capacity to identify clearly only two forms.

Furthermore, the types of form categories are not as distinct as suggested. Form critics often categorize with acute subjectivity resulting in curiously mixed forms that reflect their preconceived agendas rather than objective analysis.  For example, in Mark 3:1-6, Dibelius identifies this story (the man with a withered hand) as a pure while he contends that Mark 10:46-52 (blind Bartimaeus) is a “less pure” paradigm and Mark 5:25-34 (the woman with the hemorrhage) a tale.[147]  Yet, any such distinctions are quite artificial.  Dibelius claims that didactic motives are central, and the healing is incidental in Mark 3:1-6 so that it can be classed as a paradigm, yet the pericope concludes with the miracle and its effect on the Pharisees rather than with a saying about the Sabbath.[148]  To overcome this inconsistency, Dibelius can only assert that in this paradigm “the original ending in Mark iii, 6, is concealed.”   Mark 10:52 ends with a saying yet Dibelius says it is not a pure paradigm (most likely due to the miraculous healing), and Mark 5:34 ends in a saying but because of its miraculous nature Dibelius deprecates it as a “tale.”  Dibelius’s conclusions reveal his subjective bias and antisupernaturalism.

Adding to the subjectivity of form-critical categories is the fact that a narrative may often be assignable to more than one form or are mixed in type.  Bruce’s comments are telling:

A narrative may be assignable to more than one “form”; thus the incident of the paralyzed man (Mk. 2:1-12) is a pronouncement story because the criticism that breaks out when Jesus forgives the man’s sins is silenced by Jesus’ pronouncement that “the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mk. 2:10); but it can also be classified as a miracle story, more specifically a healing story.[149]

Is Mark 2:1-12 a miracle story or a pronouncement story?  The very idea of labeling it a “miracle” story draws special attention to the miraculous nature of the story and reflects the form critic’s bias regarding miracles.  Also, such a label is not based on form but content.

Contributing to this situation is that often judgment of classification is not based on form but entirely on the subjective prejudices of the form critic.  For instance, in Bultmann’s classification of the sayings of Jesus (“Dominical Sayings”), he divides them into several groups (Wisdom Sayings [i.e., Logia], Prophetic and Apocalyptic Sayings, Legal sayings and church rules, and “I” Sayings).[150]  In the instance of the first class or Wisdom words, he divides them into three sub-classes based on the issue of his conception of genuineness:  Jesus’s use of existing sayings, Jesus’s own creation of sayings, and the church’s attribution of sayings to Jesus that he did not speak.[151]  He assigns much to the third sub-class: “Actually many logia have been derived from the traditional wisdom and first taken into the Christian tradition by the Church, and treated as a saying of Jesus.”[152]  Bultmann continues, “It will only be in very few cases that one of the logia can be ascribed to Jesus with any measure of confidence.”[153]  He bases this decision on arbitrarily selected criteria for genuineness: a strong sense of eschatology (e.g., Mark 3:24-27), a summons to repentance (e.g., Mark 8:35; Luke 9:62), and those involving a new disposition of mind (e.g., Mark 7:15; Luke 14:11).[154]

Bultmann treats the “I” sayings of Jesus similarly. The “I” sayings of Jesus are sayings where he makes specific demands or special claims.  They are interpreted not as Jesus’s words but that which the community has produced, placing the sayings on the lips of Jesus, in order to meet the community’s needs in the particular situation that the community finds itself. Regarding Matthew 10:34-36 and Luke 12:51-53, Bultmann contends, “The Church, putting Jesus in God’s place as ruler of history, has made him proclaim that he will bring the time of terror, and had obviously experienced the fulfillment of the prophecy in its own life.”[155]  The Christian community’s attribution of the saying to Jesus gives authoritative weight to the saying.

In the same manner, Bultmann interprets Prophetic and Apocalyptic sayings of Jesus as coming from the Christian community or as prophecies ex eventu.  Regarding Matthew 5:11-12, he contends,  “Matthew 5:11f. is a new element of the tradition … arising ex eventu and for that reason created by the church” (compare also, for example, Bultmann at Matt. 10; 24; Mark 13).[156]  He goes on to argue, “The church drew no distinction between such utterances of Christian prophets [e.g., Rev. 16:15] and the sayings of Jesus in the tradition, for the reason that even the dominical sayings in the tradition were not the pronouncements of a past authority, but sayings of the risen Lord, who is always a contemporary for the Church.”[157]

As a result, Bultmann accepts only around forty sayings as genuinely attributable to Jesus.  He also considers only the bare facts of life and death (not the resurrection) of Jesus to be authentic.  The rest of the material is attributable to the fabrication or adaptation of the Christian community that had no biographical interest in the life of Jesus or desire for historical accuracy.  In later life, Bultmann moderated his thinking but only very slightly.[158]

Not only may be classification be ambiguous but sometimes the same saying or discourse has been preserved in two different “forms.”  Bultmann contended, “it is no objection to form-critical approach, but rather a demonstration of its fruitfulness, to find that one piece of the tradition is seldom to be classified unambiguously in a single category.” Yet, this statement subtlety reveals the acute bias and subjectivity in form analysis, for Bultmann just prior to this asserted, “The proper understanding of form criticism rests upon the judgment that the literature in which the life of given community . . . has taken shape, springs out of quite definite conditions and wants of life from which grows up a quite definite style and quite specific forms and categories.” [159]  Surely one cannot have it both ways, for the more the text resists such excessive systematization, the more form criticism is undermined.[160]

This discussion of form categorization stands as a warning to conservative evangelicals.  Since Luther and the Reformation (1517), the grammatico-historical method consistently has demonstrated its ability and sufficiency to distinguish “forms” in the gospel material (parables, allegories, proverbs, types, poetry, etc.) rendering the need for any “form-critical” analysis highly suspect and unnecessary.[161]  Current attempts at reforming form critical postures and labeled as “new” form criticism such as Klaus Berger’s, Formgeschichte des Neuen Testaments only serve to underscore the inability of form criticism as a viable option for exegesis and partakes of many of the same weaknesses.[162]  It also supplies a completely aberrant understanding (presuppositionally, historically and practically) of form criticism, for the words of the Father and Systematizer of Form Criticism, Bultmann, must again be echoed:

I am entirely in agreement with M. Dibelius when he maintains that form-criticism is not simply an exercise in aesthetics nor yet simply a process of description or classification; that is to say, it does not consist of identifying the individual units of the tradition according to their aesthetics or other characteristics and placing them in their various categories. It is much rather “to discover the origin and the history of the particular units and thereby to throw some light on the history of the tradition before it took literary form.”[163]

Bultmann continues, “form criticism . . .  not only presupposes judgements of facts alongside judgments of literary criticism, but must also lead to judgements about facts (the genuineness of a saying, the historicity of a report and the like).”[164]  Bultmann’s candor is refreshing about the true nature of form criticism.  If Berger is attempting merely to describe the biblical phenomena in context, then much of what Berger attempts can be accomplished more effectively and accurately through the grammatico-historical hermeneutic that has consistently demonstrated its validity since the Reformation.

  1. Tradition Criticism/History[165]

An Overview of Tradition Criticism

Tradition criticism (traditionsgeschichte) is related closely to form criticism in that its principles were developed in conjunction with form criticism yet is now considered a separate discipline.[166] For many modern critics, especially those who advocate some hermeneutical role for form and redaction criticism, the most important task is to assess the authenticity of the units of Gospel tradition.  Much of the effort centers in discovering the earliest form of the tradition unit through peeling away the layers of the narrative that allegedly accrued over time caused by the alleged Sitz im Leben of the church (or, Christian community) during the oral period. The application of these tradition criteria to the text are also considered a valid means for determining the relative antiquity and historical veracity of the Gospel units.  The goal is to recover the “original” core of teaching in each Gospel pericope, i.e., the authentic teaching of Jesus versus what is non-authentic. In light of this, tradition criticism becomes the study of the origin, history, and development of a given saying especially in the Gospels but also throughout the New Testament.

Therefore, analysis and criticism of the traditions contained in the Gospels for the form critic takes essentially two tactics: The first is the recovery of the earliest and most authentic forms of the tradition by the application of certain laws of tradition. The second is to make critical judgments on the historicity of the saying by establishing certain “criteria of authenticity” whereby the origin of these traditions may be attributed directly to Jesus (“authentic”) or be the creation or fabrication of the Christian communities (Palestinian, Hellenistic or Gentile).[167]  In this latter area, tradition criticism finds its most prominent expression.

The Presuppositional Basis of Tradition Criticism

Importantly, these tradition criteria arose from the same virulent antisupernatural presuppositional foundation that gave rise to form criticism. At the heart of the method are negative historical presuppositions that are rooted in the radical skepticism of Enlightenment.  In discussing the form-critical analysis of tradition material, Doty remarks, “The basic presuppositions for the modern historical-critical approach to the NT writings were set in the last part of the eighteenth century under the influence of deism and rationalism.”[168] Moreover, for any conservative evangelical to treat tradition-critical principles in isolation from their negative presuppositional foundations carelessly overlooks their true nature, and, as a result, fails to consider properly their highly doubtful hermeneutical validity. If the history of modern interpretive methods demonstrates anything (see Chapter 2 on Presuppositions), it is that interpretive methods cannot be studied in isolation from historical, presuppositional, and intellectual developments without inviting disaster in hermeneutical methodologies. A hermeneutical method cannot be more valid than the validity of the foundation upon which it lies.

Taking a radically negative view of the historicity of the gospels sayings, Bultmann and his theological descendants (e.g., Käsemann, Conzelmann, Perrin) are responsible for the propagation of much of the criteria of authenticity, e.g., the principle of discontinuity (dissimilarity), multiple attestations and consistency of content (coherence).[169] They predicate the entire undertaking on the assumption that the Gospel traditions are inherently suspect unless good reasons can be advanced for accepting them. Tradition criticism places the onus probandi (“burden of proof”) on the Gospels’ claims to be authentic.

As expected, the inventors of these “criteria of authenticity” reflect this presupposition.  In the History of The Synoptic Tradition, Bultmann himself accepted only about forty sayings as genuine and merely the event of Jesus life and death on the cross.  The post-Bultmannian, Norman Perrin argues, “the nature of the synoptic tradition is such that the burden of proof will be upon the claim to authenticity.”[170]  The instigator of the “New Quest” for the historical Jesus, Ernst Käsemann echoes a similar thought,

Historical criticism has shattered this good faith [in the historical reliability of the gospels] as far as we ourselves are concerned.  We can no longer assume the general reliability of the Synoptic tradition about Jesus . . . . our questioning has sharpened and widened until the obligation now laid upon us is to investigate and make credible not the possible unauthenticity of the individual unit of material but, on the contrary, its genuineness.”[171]

As discussed, a primary task of tradition criticism is to apply laws of tradition to the material in order to discover an alleged “original” or earlier form of the tradition.  Bultmann argued:

[W]e may accurately observe how the Marcan material is altered and revised by Matthew an Luke, and how Matthew and Luke have presumably edited the text of Q (the Sayings-document).  If we are able to deduce a certain regularity in this procedure, then we may certainly assume that the same laws held good even earlier, and we may draw conclusions as to the state of the tradition prior to Mark and Q.[172]

Bultmann, Dibelius, and other form critics also argued that the gospel traditions fell into the category of “folk tradition” (“characteristics of folk-tales,” “folk-song,” folk-anecdote,” and “simple fairy-tales”) and observations about how folk-lore traditions functioned would reveal the same rules or laws that the gospel traditions followed in their development.[173] Assumed parallels of development with German folklore, Greek literature, rabbinic literature, and the apocryphal gospels served as guides in the development of these laws as applied to the gospel material.[174]

However, as already demonstrated, the gospel material is qualitatively different than any assumed folklore parallels.  In addition, not enough time would exist in any hypothesized “oral period.”  Folklore preservation takes many hundreds of years.

  Another presuppositional basis that heavily influenced the development of the laws of tradition was the acceptance and predominance of the idea that Matthew and Luke used Mark and the hypothesized Q (“Quelle”) source.  By observing how Matthew and Luke allegedly used Mark and Q, form critics also extrapolated that Mark used the oral traditions available to him in a similar fashion.[175]  However, such an assumption is based on another highly speculative hypothesis of the Two- and Four-Source approach (which itself was profoundly affected by the evolutionary Zeitgeist of the times).  Since this highly questionable synoptic approach is coming under increasing suspicion and outright rejection, this emphasizes the tenuous nature and fallacious basis of such extrapolations.[176]

In dealing with tradition criticism, the form critic also inherently accepts an evolutionary viewpoint to the development of the tradition.  This article already has discussed the profound influence that evolutionary concepts had upon the thinking of theologians such as Bultmann, Dibelius and others in the formulation, development and expression of form-critical principles during the latter half of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century.  Both Bultmann’s methodological analysis of the alleged “accretions” to the   tradition and the resultant rules utilized to remove these accretions in order to uncover the “earliest” and most “authentic” core are replete with highly questionable evolutionary philosophical precepts.  Only a mind thoroughly preconditioned by the virulent negative presuppositions of the age or Zeitgeist in which form criticism developed (“Spirit of the times”) would give validity to such assumptions.

In accordance with these presuppositional axioms, form critics argued that the gospel narratives (i.e. in Mark) originally were single pictures in simple language, “the original tradition was made up almost entirely of brief single units (sayings and short narratives), and that almost all references to time and place which serve to connect up the single sections into a larger context are the editorial work of the evangelists.”[177]  In a chapter entitled, “The Laws Governing Popular Narrative and Tradition,” Bultmann maintains,

Narrators do not give us long unified accounts but rather small single pictures, individual scenes narrated with the utmost simplicity.  These always occupy but a brief space of time; apart from the Passion Narrative no event or proceeding is narrated which covered more than two days.  As a rule only two speaking characters appear in these scenes, or at the most three; involved proceedings are beyond the powers of the simple story teller.  Where groups or crowds are present, they are treated as a unity.  As such narratives pass from mouth to mouth, or when one writer takes them over from another, their fundamental character remains the same, but the detail are subject to the control of fancy and are usually made more explicit and definite.[178]

Thus, as time went on, for example, details were added.  For example, while Mark used unnamed persons in his pericopes, the other Synoptics tended to identify these (“the tendency to characterize more definitely the dim figures in the tradition”).  Thus, in Mark 14:13 unnamed disciples are sent to prepare for the last supper, while in Luke 22:8, their names are given as Peter and John; in Mark 7:17, “the disciples” are seen as posing the question to Jesus in general, while in Matthew 15:15, Peter asks the question of Jesus.  Not only were figures identified by “later” tradition, but in Mark or Q while Jesus’s opponents are unidentified, in Matthew and Luke the opposition “are almost invariably the scribes and Pharisees.”

Bultmann also concludes that while some polemical words of Jesus addressed to scribes and Pharisees may be historical (e.g. Mark 12:38-40; and most of Matt. 23:1-31), “the schematic representation according to which the Pharisees and scribe are from the outset the sworn enemies of Jesus is certainly unhistorical.”[179]

According to form critics like Dibelius, the length and ensuing “worldiness” of the narrative is a guide to the date, for “the fortune of primitive Christianity is reflected in the history of the Gospel-Form.”  Dibelius argues, “at the beginning of the history of primitive Christian literature; there stood a tradition of an unliterary nature, consisting of short narratives and striking sayings, which were repeated for practical purposes.”[180]  Then after time, “the mythological element take charge of the entire material of evangelical history.”  To him, paradigms, being the simplest and shortest are “the earliest formal constructions.”  The distinct lack of miraculous elements, for Dibelius, also indicates their primitive historicity and, as a consequence, “trustworthiness.” Also, Dibelius asserts that the paradigms narration in a “true, human, simple, and artless manner” indicates its primitive historicity. [181]

After that, “pleasure in the narrative for its own sake arose and seized upon literary devices.”  As a consequence, worldly elements that gave “a fully secular character” to the form were added as the Christian community began to imitate the surrounding techniques of the world’s manner of story-telling.  Thus, a lengthier form arose known as the “Tale” or “Wonder story” arose.  Reflecting Greek and Oriental conceptions, these represented Jesus as a miracle worker.  Thus, these foreign or miraculous elements in Tales indicate that “Tales are only to be used with great caution as historical sources” especially since “they were open to the invasion of foreign motives” and “by the pleasure of narrating the Tale.”[182]

Next, legends or stories about Jesus and His associates developed as even more time passed.  As a result, legends would be less trustworthy and, consequently, of a later date than paradigms or tales, i.e. legends were on the “periphery of the tradition.”  In Legends, “One told of these persons in the same way as similar narratives from the surrounding world spoke of other holy men.”  Through such legends, a complete “accommodation to the world and harmony with its relationships” predominated.[183]

According to form critics, observing distinctions between direct and indirect discourse is indicative of the original form. Thus, as time went on, indirect discourse became direct discourse, i.e. words were placed directly on the lips of gospel characters.  For example, in Mark 8:32, when Jesus announced his impending crucifixion, the text states in general terms that Peter rebuked him, while in Matthew 16:22, the words that Peter used are reported (cf. Mark 14:23 vs. Matt. 26:27); the inarticulate cry from the cross in Mark 15:37 becomes specified in Luke 23:46.

According to form critics like Bultmann, Dibelus, and Taylor,[184] the presence of Semitisms, in distinction to Hellenistic elements, is often an indication of a tradition that is very early or even authentic.  Two contemporary advocates for Semitisms as a test for antiquity are Joachim Jeremias and Matthew Black.[185] Bultmann typically argued, “since our gospels arose out of Greek Christianity, the distinction provides us with a criterion which frequently enables us to determine whether this or that feature belongs to the older tradition or was composed later.”[186]

Yet, the argument that formal Semitisms may establish the antiquity of the Gospels is tenuous for significant reasons.  First, by the time period of the New Testament, Judaism and Hellenism had already experienced considerable interpenetration.  This interpenetration is evidenced even in the terminology of the New Testament.  For instance, the characteristic Palestinian institution of the Sanhedrin derived its name from the Greek word sunevdrion indicates the deep influence that Greek had even in the very heart of Palestinian Judaism.[187] The Talmud also indicates this penetration:  Tosephta Sota XV 322.6 relates: “Permission was given to the House of Rabban Gamaliel to teach their children Greek owing to their relation with the (Roman) government.” The Babylonian Talmud Sota 49b states that Rabbi Simeon related: “There were a thousand young men in my father’s house, five hundred of whom studied the Law while the other five hundred studied Greek wisdom.” Lieberman has demonstrated that Rabbis quoted not only from Jewish sources for their teachings but also from Greek sources (e.g. Greek proverbs).[188]

Second, studies indicate that Jesus’s language environment was not exclusively Aramaic but also may have included considerable knowledge and use of Greek from the very start.[189]  Gundry argued, “we can be sure that the tradition about Jesus was expressed from the very first in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek . . . . We cannot naively work on the assumption that everything was originally in Aramaic, that we should seek Aramaic equivalents wherever possible, and that wherever Aramaic equivalents cannot be traced we must reject authenticity.”[190]  Jesus, living in the city of Nazareth in the region of Galilee that was dominated by Gentiles, who spoke Greek (e.g. “Galilee of the Gentiles”—Matt. 4:15), would most likely have been familiar with Greek his whole life.  Peter, Andrew, James and John would also probably have known Greek if they were to sell their fish in Gentile markets of Galilee.  This factor, coupled with the missionary emphasis of the Gospel (cf. Matt. 28:19; Acts 1:8; 6:1) would ensure that the message occurred both orally and in writing from the very beginning in the lingua franca (i.e. Greek) of the civilized world as well as Aramaic.  As Argyle notes, “If Jesus and his disciples were as familiar with Greek as with Aramaic, the transition from the oral Aramaic stage to the Greek literary stage would have been natural and easy.”[191]

Third, using the form critic’s same logic, indications exist that Mark may be later rather than “earlier.” For example, Mark’s Latinisms  (e.g. kenturivwn, xevsth”, spekoulavtwr, iJkano;n poiei’n)[192] and his translation of Aramaic expressions (e.g. Mark 5:41; 15:22, 34) for the sake of those who did not know Aramaic may indicate that Mark was later rather than earlier as suggested by form critics.

To form critics, the writing style of the evangelist also is another indication of the earliness and trustworthiness of the tradition.  Bultmann related, “While with Mark the art of the evangelist appears to be quite undeveloped, Luke displays a fine editorial artistry. Even the casual reader may note the difference if he observes the quite distinct manners in which Matthew and Luke introduce material from the Sayings-document into Mark” [in the composition of their own gospels].[193]  Yet, as Redlich apply notes, “The stylistic methods of writers are no evidence of laws of tradition; they are indications of the standard of scholarship of the writers.”[194]

Since the gospels were written by the apostles whose names they bear and who witnessed the events that they wrote concerning, then no substantial credibility exists to such laws. The most credible case, supported by consistent and unconvoluted testimony of church history, is that the gospels reflect either direct apostolic testimony (Matthew, John) or are based on eyewitness accounts (Mark (Peter), Luke [1:1-4]). The key to this is that only Bultmann’s and Dibelius’s (and any form critic’s) presuppositions prevent the acceptance of this latter assertion. Instead of indicating any “development” of tradition or secondary elements, any comparison of individual gospel pericopes in Matthew, Mark, and Luke merely reveal selectivity in what the eyewitnesses chose to convey and also reflect the individual style of the writers.

Furthermore, forms critics, in their development of these “laws of tradition,” are guilty of being selective in argumentation rather than thorough. They chose examples that only appeared to support their position while ignoring other tendencies and factors that convolute their hypotheses. Sanders, after examining these form-critical laws of tradition, concludes that the tradition does not follow assertions of simple to complex,

There are no hard and fast laws of the development of the Synoptic tradition. On all accounts the tradition developed in opposite directions. It became both longer and shorter, both more and less detailed, and both more and less Semitic.  Even the tendency to use direct discourse for indirect . . . was not uniform in the Synoptics themselves.  For this reason, dogmatic statements that a certain characteristic proves a certain passage to be earlier than another are never justified.[195]

Caird concurs with this assessment.  He cites, for example, in the triple tradition of the feeding of the five thousand that the “green grass” in Mark 6:39 disappears in Luke 9:14 which is the exact opposite of what one should expect if these laws of tradition were true.  Caird concludes, “a law which tells us that tradition may either amplify or abbreviate, may either add details or omit them, is very little help in determining which of two accounts is the more original.”[196]

Strategically, if central presuppositions of form criticism are rejected, such as antisupernaturalism, evolution, the Two-Document (or, Four-Document) Hypothesis, then these laws of tradition have no substantial basis for they operate on the tacit assumption of these presuppositions.  If the gospels are accepted as eyewitness accounts (Matthew, John) or based on eyewitness accounts (Mark, Luke) as the unbroken testimony of early church history affirms, form critical assertions melt completely away.  The specificity or lack of specificity merely reflects the personal choices of the eyewitness as to what they chose to include in the recounting of their stories.  As a result, the tradition contained in the gospels is inherently stable.

Criteria of Authenticity for the Words of Jesus

The area of “authenticating” the sayings of Jesus consumes most of the effort in tradition criticism.  Because form critics postulate that the gospels reflect the creative Christian community rather than preserving the actual words of Jesus, they inevitably became involved in attempting to identify “genuine” sayings of Jesus from those that were products of the Christian community. As a result, form critics developed “criteria of authenticity” to make such determinations. Such criteria inherently impugn the gospel record, placing the onus of proof on the gospels to demonstrate authenticity. Often, as will be seen, these principles are mutually contradictory and eliminate the vast majority of the sayings of Jesus as authentic.

The recent work by Funk, Hoover, and others of the so-called “Jesus Seminar” entitled, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, represent the most recent pronouncement that uses the historical-critical method of tradition criticism to negate the authenticity of the Gospels.[197]  Like Bultmann at the turn of the century, [198] who barely accepted approximately forty sayings as attributable to Jesus, the Jesus Seminar rejects 82% sayings of Jesus (analyzing more than 1500 sayings in their total inventory) with the remaining 18% as doubtfully authentic. Yet, the Seminar demonstrates its highly radical and prejudiced nature when it labels Bultmann as “neo-orthodox.”[199]

The “Jesus Seminar” credits their analysis of the sayings of Jesus on the so-called “Seven Pillars of Scholarly Wisdom that serve as their basic presuppositional foundation: 1) a distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, 2) a distinction in historical value between the Synoptic Gospels (containing some reflection of the historical Jesus) and the Gospel of John (containing only a “spiritual” Jesus and little historical value), 3) the priority of Mark, 4) recognition of a hypothetical “Q” (German, Quelle or “source”) as the explanation for material common to Matthew and Luke but not found in Mark, 5) a distinction between Schweitzer’s eschatological Jesus (the kingdom is entirely future and cataclysmic) and the Seminar’s assertion of a non-eschatological view of Jesus’s teaching (the kingdom is already here, i.e. “God’s imperial rule”), 6) a fundamental contrast between Jesus’s predominately oral culture and today’s written culture, 7)  the investigator’s operating axiom for which no further demonstration is necessary is that the burden of proof for historical validity rests upon the Gospel’s historical record.  As a result, the investigator has “no final guarantees” as to what Jesus claimed and taught.  The Seminar labels these axioms as “safeguards offered by the historical methodologies practiced by all responsible scholars.”[200] As Carson relates, “The criteria by which so much gospel material ascribed to Jesus is dismissed as inauthentic are not much more than restatements of old fashioned form and redaction criticism.”[201]  Their final presupposition or “test” is “beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you.”  Such an assertion, however, applies especially to the Jesus Seminar, who a priori determine the outcome of the “historical Jesus” by adopting such presuppositions that are far from neutral.  Their Jesus of history is already decided before any examination of evidence.[202]

Claiming to be more “scientific” because the Seminar views the life of Jesus from “the new lens of historical reason and research rather than through the perspective of theology and traditional creedal formulations” the Jesus Seminar group is far from objectivity in its analysis. [203]  Indeed, it cannot have the slightest hope of “scientific” objectivity since the Seminar admittedly anchors its research upon the same negative presuppositional foundation upon which historical criticism rests.  The Seminar admits that, as a result, their underlying assumption is “the gospels are now assumed to be narratives in which the memory of Jesus is embellished by mythic elements that express the church’s faith in him, and by plausible fictions that enhance the telling of the gospel story for first-century listeners who knew about divine men and miracle workers firsthand.”[204]

  Barbour, in his work Traditio-Historical Criticism of the Gospels, divides tradition-critical axioms into two broad categories: formal and material criteria.  Formal criteria deal with the form in which the material was allegedly handed down or from the place which it occupies in the gospel tradition (e.g. multiple attestations, Aramaisms, poetic form, and parallelism).  Material criteria deal with the actual content of the material itself (dissimilarity, coherence).  Barbour terms this two-fold distinction a “rough-and-ready one” but says that “it has its usefulness.”[205]  Space for this article limits the discussion to only the most key criteria of these broad categories.

In analyzing these criteria, their methodological bankruptcy clearly is evident, i.e. they are neither valid nor capable of producing what they allege nor do they have any hope of being “objective” or “scientific” in approach. The Criterion of Multiple Attestation is one of the earliest formulated, being advocated by F. C. Burkitt.[206]  Anchored upon the priority of Mark and the Two-Document Hypothesis as the solution to the synoptic “problem,” this criterion suggests that when a saying or activity of Jesus appears in more than one of these sources the more likely that the saying would be authentic.  British-trained tradition critics have tended to rely even more heavily on this principle than do Bultmannian-influenced tradition critics since it eventually centered upon the solution to the Synoptic Problem that the British, due to Streeter’s influence (The Four Gospels–1924), heavily prefer (i.e. the Four-Source hypothesis–Mark, Q, M, L). [207] McArthur terms this criterion “the most objective of the proposed criteria.”[208]  This latter statement reveals the hopelessly subjective and biased nature of tradition criticism, for if this is the most “objective” criterion, then acute problems exist with the whole system.

Strategic flaws render this criterion as highly dubious: 1) The entire basis of the criterion centers in a highly questionable synoptic hypothesis.  As a result, such a criterion automatically has a built-in bias.  If, and it is very likely, that the Two- or Four-Source hypothesis is invalid, then this criterion proves nothing.  Therefore, merely because several alleged “layers of tradition” contain, the saying or activity confirm nothing regarding authenticity.  2) No valid reason exists to deny the authenticity of a saying simply because it is found in only one alleged “source.”  This criterion is inherently negative since it implies that one witness is not sufficient.  The Bible only has to record a saying or activity once for it to have been actually spoken or performed by Jesus.

Related to the Criterion of Multiple Attestation is the Criterion of Multiple Forms.  C. H. Dodd was the first to suggest this principle as a tool for authenticity.  Heavily influenced by form criticism, this principle suggests that a gospel motif may be authentic if it appears in multiple forms, i.e. in different form-critical categories (e.g. pronouncement and miracle stories).[209]

In reply, similar counter-arguments apply to this category as to the Criterion of Multiple Attestation.  One witness is entirely sufficient to confirm what Jesus said or did.  The acute subjectivity of form-critical categories (as noted in this chapter) also reveals the highly speculative nature of this criterion.

The Criterion of Aramaic Linguistic Phenomena asserts that the presence of Aramaisms in the gospel material suggests the “primitiveness” of a particular tradition and, hence indicates the increased likelihood that the tradition actually comes from Jesus.  While Dalman, Burney, and Torrey were the earliest advocates of this hypothesis, Black and Jeremias have done the most extensive work.[210]  Fuller goes so far as to say that “any saying of Jesus, if it is authentic, should exhibit Aramaic features, and if it has the structure of Aramaic poetry this increases the presumption that the saying is authentic.”[211]  Jeremias argues that the presence of Aramaisms “is of great significance for the question of the reliability of the gospel tradition,” while Turner asserts, “the closer the approximation of a passage in the Gospels to the style and idiom of contemporary Aramaic, the greater the presumption of authenticity.”[212]

In reply, some strategic considerations militate strongly against its validity: 1) This chapter has already demonstrated that the mere presence of Aramaisms is no real indication of primitiveness or earliness.  On the contrary, Greek and Hellenism in general, as well as Aramaic, exercised a profound influence on the New Testament Palestinian environment, especially in terms of language and culture.  Jesus and many of the disciples, being raised in Galilee or having contact with Gentiles, would also have spoken and taught in Greek as well as Aramaic.  Jesus’s use of uJpokrithv” in Matthew 6:2, 5, 16 is a case in point, for it retains the classical Greek meaning of “play actor,” a meaning that is found in the papyri.  As Argyle relates, “It is probable . . . that Jesus was really speaking Greek not only in his use of uJpokrithv” but in the other words of his teaching when doing so in Galilee of the Gentiles.”[213] Therefore, something cannot be ruled out merely because it does not reflect an alleged Aramaic source.  2)  The principle is hermeneutically misguided.  Inerrancy and the grammatico-historical hermeneutic dictate that inspiration is grounded in the autographs and not in any hypothesized sources that allegedly lay behind them.

The Criterion of Palestinian Environmental Phenomena contends that if a tradition evidences Palestinian social, domestic, agricultural, religious or other customs, then the tradition originated in a Palestinian environment rather than being a creation of a Greek or non-Palestinian church. The assumption here is that if a tradition betrays the time and environment of Jesus, the higher the likelihood that the tradition is authentic.  Jeremias argues that if the “pictorial element” of the tradition betrays Palestinian conditions, then a greater likelihood exists for the genuineness of the tradition.[214]

In reply, not all of Jesus teachings or incidents are exclusively Palestinian, especially since Jesus said things that indicate a Greek environmental influence also.  For example, physicians served as models for sententious sayings in many cultures, and some serve as striking parallels to Jesus’s words (Mark 2:17 cf. Meander, Fragment 591 K).[215]  Traditions, therefore, should not be doubted merely because they do not indicate an exclusively Palestinian background.

In addition to these “formal criteria,” two highly strategic “material criteria” exist: the Criteria of Dissimilarity and Coherence.  Although its origin is uncertain, the Criterion of Dissimilarity (or, Distinctiveness) is among the most strategic tradition-critical factors used by its advocates and heralded as the most useful.  France comments, “This is the essential criterion, around which all others revolve” and “All others [i.e. criteria] are extensions of it or are used only to check and confirm its findings.”[216]  It is deeply rooted in the form-critical approach of Dibelius, Schmidt, and Bultmann.  Bultmann constantly subjected the gospel material to this criterion in his History of the Synoptic Tradition.[217]  Käsemann describes it in the following terms, “In only one case do we have more or less safe ground under our feet [in determining authentic material]; when there are no grounds either for deriving a tradition from Judaism or for ascribing it to primitive Christianity.”[218]

This criterion has come to its most fervent expression in the work of Perrin and Fuller.  Fuller argues, “As regards the sayings of Jesus, traditio-historical criticism eliminates from the authentic sayings of Jesus those which are paralleled in the Jewish tradition on one hand (apocalyptic and Rabbinic) and those which reflect the faith, practice and situations of the post-Easter church as we know them from outside the gospels.”[219]   Perrin goes so far as to assert, “the criterion of dissimilarity . . . must be regarded as the basis for all contemporary attempts to reconstruct the teaching of Jesus.”[220]  The essence of this Criterion is that authenticity of a tradition about Jesus is established only when it does not fit within either the Christian community that transmitted it or the Jewish world in which Jesus lived and taught.

Several serious flaws render this Criterion tenuous.  First, this criterion blatantly assumes the inauthenticity of the traditions as its operating principle.  It automatically condemns the tradition to suspicion and unreliability (“guilty until declared innocent approach”).  Second, by its very formulation, it eliminates the vast majority of the gospel material, especially since most does not conflict with Judaism or the early church. Third, this tool is based on an argument from silence. Our knowledge of Judaism during Jesus day and of the early church is limited.  To eliminate material based on our limited knowledge of these periods is precarious.  Fourth, acute subjectivity reigns in the application of this principle.  Scholars constantly differ as to whether a particular item is more “natural” against the background of primitive Christianity or against the background of Jesus ministry.[221]  Fifth, this principle erroneously presupposes no connection between Jesus and contemporary Judaism to which he belonged, and especially also assumes no connection between Jesus and the Old Testament.  A continuity would naturally have existed between Jesus and his contemporaries.  To exclude such agreement would lead only to distortion of what Jesus taught and resulted in a minimalistic Jesus or what is euphemistically termed “a critically assured minimum.”[222]  Fifth, this method directly conflicts with the Criterion of Palestinian Environmental Phenomena and Aramaic Criterion that an “authentic” saying of Jesus should reflect first century Palestine.  The tradition critic eliminates material if it can be paralleled in contemporary Judaism and also if it has a background that cannot be positively shown to be consistent with Palestinian Judaism of the first century.  At the outset, the critic has eliminated most, if not all, material.

The Criterion of Coherence functions as a buttressing corollary to that of Dissimilarity.  Moreover, its essential validity is dependent upon the validity of the other principles discussed.  If those principles are wrong or invalid, then any data accepted through coherence is also wrong and invalid. Although he not explicitly formulates this principle, Bultmann used this type of criterion in the course of his form-critical work on the synoptic tradition.  Commenting on Matthew 12:28, he argues that the verse “can, in my view, claim the highest degree of authenticity which we can make for any saying of Jesus: it is full of that feeling of eschatological power which must have characterized the activity of Jesus.”[223]

Perrin defines Coherence as follows, “material from the earliest strata of the tradition may be accepted as authentic if it can be shown to cohere with material established as authentic by means of the criterion of dissimilarity” and “once characteristics of Jesus teachings are established in this way [by the Criterion of Dissimilarity], these characteristics can be used to validate sayings which themselves would not meet the requirements of the criterion of dissimilarity.”[224] Thus, this principle contends that what is coherent with the material accepted as genuine by means of the Criterion of Dissimilarity can also be accepted as genuine.

Some strategic arguments also render this Criterion tenuous.  First, and perhaps most obvious, since this principle depends so heavily upon the criterion of dissimilarity, it automatically inherits the same problems.  The application of coherence will magnify errors in results derived by the application of dissimilarity. Second, acute subjectivity reigns in its formulation.  What standards judge coherence?  What may seem coherent to modern scholars may not have seemed coherent to a Jew or Christian in the first century. This is capriciousness at its most brazen form.

In sum, tradition critics have carefully chosen these criteria to ensure results. Minds already closed to the legitimacy of the tradition have devised principles designed to reinforce their preconceptions (perhaps better, misconceptions). Tradition critics never designed these principles to confirm, only to underscore their negativity about the reliability of tradition as a whole. At best, they conceive of only a bare minimum of credibility to the tradition, and they predetermined the results to confirm this a priori assumption by intentional design of criteria. It is circular reasoning in its most malignant form.  They have guaranteed the results as meager. These tradition-critical principles betray a philosophically preconceived agenda buttressing the contention that a preconceived hostility to the text exists in tradition criticism that eliminates any hope of objectivity. Perhaps more significantly, these so-called tradition criteria are devoid of any concept of inspiration in regards to the biblical text. Their historical development stands as a salient testimony to this assertion.  Critics formulated these principles entirely apart from such considerations, and, to a large degree, from a virulent hostility to such concepts.

  1. The Growing Evangelical Practice of Form and Tradition Criticism

A recent article in Christianity Today, entitled “Who Do Scholars Say That I am?,” decried with indignation the Jesus Seminar’s wholesale purging of the words and works of Jesus.[225]  In the past, other articles have also castigated the members of the Jesus Seminar for their “liberal theological persuasion” in deciding “what Jesus did and did not say.”[226]  Recent works, such as Jesus under Fire, The Jesus Quest—The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth, Cynic Sage or Son of God? written by prominent evangelicals, have also attempted to spotlight the negative pronouncements of the Seminar.[227]

This finger-pointing, however, by evangelicals is, to a very large extent, misleading, for sadly, many evangelicals are increasingly utilizing the same seriously flawed historical-critical hermeneutics and methodologies that they so strongly react against toward the Jesus Seminar.  Evangelicals are operating from the same presuppositional grid as traced in this chapter.  The result among evangelicals is the same type of dehistoricizing and rejection of the words and works of Jesus as reflected by the anathematized Jesus Seminar.  Increasingly, the pertinent question for evangelicals no longer can be “who do the Jesus Seminar scholars say that Jesus is?” but “who do evangelicals say that Jesus is?”  This growing evangelical practice that parallels the methodologies of the Jesus Seminar is also true in the employment of the historical-critical methods of form and tradition criticism.  The following will highlight a mere sampling of evangelical usage of these methods.

For many years, among conservative evangelicals, a consistent, though not exclusive trend had tended toward rejection of form criticism.  At one time Gundry argued,

[I]t is obvious that a consistent, thorough-going form criticism will have no appeal to those who desire to recognize the inspiration of the Scriptures and the historical continuity between the Lord Jesus and the early church.  And let all “conservatives” who are inclined to adopt some form critical terminology and viewpoints be apprised of the basic nature of that to which they are accommodating themselves.[228]

Unfortunately, many conservative evangelicals did not fully realize the pernicious basis of form-critical speculation, for Gundry asserted that the fundamental assumption of form criticism, i.e., “Gospel tradition first existed as brief, rounded units, circulating orally in the Christian community,” could be “quite innocuous” without perhaps realizing that such a speculation has a tacit evolutionary presuppositional background as its motivating principle.[229]  One cannot overstress that this fundamental assumption is extremely suspect in light of form criticism’s presuppositional and historical development.  It arose at a time in which evolutionary dogma was overwhelming not only the scientific but also the theological scene.  One must not divorce form speculation from the history and presuppositions that led to its development. If the foundations of the method and the history that produced the discipline is highly questionable, then the practice and assumptions of the disciple must also be.

Moreover, this article has demonstrated that at the basis of this hypothesis of brief, rounded units also centers in the radical skepticism of K. L. Schmidt, who denigrated the contextual connections as unhistorical and embellished.  If those connections are viewed, as they properly should be, as historically and chronologically trustworthy, then evangelicals should reject this “fundamental” assumption of form criticism.  No form-critical dismantling of individual pericopes can be safely undertaken, for no one can with any accuracy or any certainty identify pericopes as isolated units that actually circulated independently.  Instead, the pericopes are integral to the gospel and primarily reflect the personal reminiscences of the apostles and first-century eyewitnesses as they composed their work.  The pericopes give no real proof of any circulation in terms of form critical speculation.

Conservative evangelicals must be careful in this regard to elucidate presuppositions and historical developments that gave rise form critical speculation, for as Linnemann has correctly identified, historical-critical practices are in essence ideologies rather than methodologies.[230]  Similarly, Donald Guthrie’s words are telling, “When all the limitations are taken into account the scope of a true form-critical approach will be seen to be severely restricted.  Yet with such restrictions, it may well be asked whether such a movement can really make any effective contribution to gospel criticism.”[231]

However, a growing trend among conservatives in this group appears to be a consensus toward engaging in various “modified” versions of historical criticism (e.g. form and tradition criticism) in hopes of engaging in “dialogue” with contemporary theological scholarship as a whole.  This desire is evident in the comment of Kingsbury regarding the recently published work New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, produced by a variety of German and British-trained evangelical theologians, “New Testament Criticism and Interpretation constitutes a bold and imaginative undertaking: to bring American scholarship into dialogue with the contemporary guild of biblical scholarship.”[232]  Unfortunately, in this “dialogue” of evangelicals with “biblical scholarship,” conservative evangelicals are the ones who have evidenced substantial change, not contemporary scholarship.  Prominent evangelicals have been only too willing to adopt not only the terminology but also methodology of historical criticism.

Perhaps the assumed hope may be that some “modified” version of form criticism avoids the negative connotation that liberals and others have held toward conservative evangelicals as being “closed-minded” to current methodological practices (or, perhaps a better term is ideologies) and failing to engage in “dialogue” with contemporary scholarship as a whole.[233] Perhaps the desire to exhibit scholarship has driven the growing evangelical consensus. Sadly, however, liberal conceptions of “scholarship” have driven evangelical perceptions of what scholarship really is.  When liberal methodologies are unmasked for what they really are, philosophical agendas, the perception of genuine “scholarship” evaporates.

This current state of scholarship, however, also has produced another sad state of affairs among conservative evangelicals.  Those who do not subscribe to form-critical suppositions are sometimes subjected to a variety of  subtle ad hominem arguments and downright ostracism within the theological community for failing to dialogue and conform to such practices.[234] Theological, as well as political, correctness attempts to drown out dissenting voices that

Some impose a tactic like Davies.  Davies writes, “all serious students of the New Testament today are to some extent Form Critics.”[235] Davis not only uses the term “form criticism” in an aberrant sense in this sentence but does he really seek to imply by such a statement that those who question form criticism are not serious students of New Testament but only those who practice the method?

McKnight, follows a similar tactic, citing George Ladd as “an evangelical scholar who is the product of the American fundamentalism of the 1920’s” who accepts form-critical analysis.[236]  Again the thought appears to be that if George Ladd as a “fundamentalist” uses the method, “evangelical scholars” as a whole should adopt it.  Apparently again, if someone is to be considered a “scholar” by the liberal community (and now increasingly the same ideas are touted by the evangelical community), then their methodologies must be adopted.  If not, then the detractor is not a scholar.  Such logic is non-sequitur as well as shameful!

McKnight emphasizes his point by citing Ladd’s acknowledgment that form criticism contains “valid elements” and that it “has thrown considerable light on the nature of the gospels and the traditions they employ.  Evangelical scholars should be willing to accept this light.”[237]  Besides McKnight’s argument from authority being extremely weak in logic, just because some conservative theologians have accepted form criticism does not in any way legitimize its usage in the conservative evangelical camp.  The issue must remain the validity of form-critical speculations rather than assuming validity based on a hand-count of what the “majority” decides.

Furthermore, does Ladd wish to imply by this statement that those who reject form criticism are ignorant fops when he asserts that “they should be willing to accept this light”?  Perhaps the rejecters of form-critical method know full well the implications of the discipline and reject it upon that basis.  Ladd begs the question when he argues that evangelical scholars should be willing to “accept the light.”  The crucial issues must always center on whether form criticism demonstrates sound hermeneutical validity (“light”), or whether it destroys the perspicuity of the Word and plunges conservative evangelicals into deeper darkness in the interpretation of Scripture because of an already preconceived and biased agenda.

Ladd’s form-critical approach adopts much questionable methodology. While rejecting the views of “extreme form critics,” Ladd advocates a modified version of form criticism since, he contends, form criticism “contains valid elements.”[238] He accepts the Two-Document Hypothesis as a presuppositional working basis for form criticism, arguing it is “to be accepted as a literary fact.”[239] Yet, Ladd makes a telling admission: “The Solution to the Synoptic problem was not achieved by scholars who held a high view of the Bible but by men who were concerned primarily with historical and literary questions.  These men felt that only because they had been set free from any dogmatic view of biblical inspiration were they able to deal fully with the Gospels as historical documents.”[240] Perhaps that admission should make conservative evangelicals more cautious in accepting such “light.”  Ladd admits that an anti-supernatural bias led to the acceptance of Markan priority (Mark has no mention of Jesus’s virgin birth, his infancy, etc.) but still prefers to adopt Markan priority apart from these considerations.  However, the presuppositional and historical motives of the two- and four-source hypothesis are highly questionable and render Ladd’s assertion of “literary fact” quite tenuous.

Ladd seeks to assert that traditional form criticism’s “skepticism” is not a result of the method by itself but of form criticism coupled with a rationalistic view of the nature of history.”[241]  Yet, this article and a previous one (“The Philosophical and Theological bent of Historical Criticism”) have demonstrated that form criticism’s fundamental assumptions rest on a foundation of skepticism. That foundation produced the method and provided its working basis. How then can Ladd call the method valid? It can be no more valid than its presuppositions and historical developments!

Ladd advocates a modified approach.  Yet, like other form critics, however, he advocates an exclusively oral period and categorically rejects out of hand any concept that that written documents could have existed early.[242] However, the idea of an exclusively oral period is an assumption that has become a dogma.   Credible arguments exist that during Jesus’s ministry his disciples may have written notes on the main aspects of his teaching.[243]

Ladd argues: “A second valid contention of form criticism is that the Gospels are not ‘neutral, objective, impartial’ records but are witnesses to the faith of Christian believers.”[244]  Although he qualifies this statement, he concludes “the redemptive events recorded in the Gospels are ‘objective’ in the sense that they really happened in space and time, but their nature is such that they stand apart from merely human ‘historical events’ . . . for they cannot be understood by ordinary human observation but only by the response of faith.”[245]  However, one should not confine historicity in the Scripture only to acts of redemption. In Scripture, history is wedded to theology.  If the foundational chapters of Genesis are not historical (e.g. Gunkel, Bultmann), then the redemptive acts addressed in the gospels have no validity.  Geisler correctly notes,

Evangelicals cannot look at historical and scientific affirmations in Scripture as purely symbolic or mythical.  In short, we cannot separate science from the Scripture.  When the Bible declares that Jesus was born of a virgin, then it affirms a biological truth as well as a spiritual one.  And when Jesus answered the question about divorce by saying, ‘Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female'” (Matt. 19:4), He not only laid down a moral principle but made a scientific pronouncement as well.  The scientific cannot be separated from the spiritual without doing violence to the spiritual.[246]

Thus, if Adam was not a real person, if no actual Fall occurred in time and history, then the significance of Christ’s death and all other redemptive acts are rendered suspect in the New Testament as well.

Ladd also accepts the analysis of forms according to “its setting in the early church” (Sitz im Leben) arguing “this is, to a certain extent, a valid position.”[247]  However, such a position forces him to admit that “such a study is highly hypothetical.”[248] As part of his form analysis, he concludes that Mark was written in Rome to a Gentile audience and Matthew to a Jewish one.  Yet, theologians have long reached such conclusions without the existence or need of form criticism.

Robert Stein is an example of an evangelical who reflects significant agreement with historical-critical and form-critical assumptions.  Like other form critics, he assumes the British Four-Source hypothesis as a working presupposition.[249]  He basis many of his interpretive conclusions on this hypothesis.  Yet, more and more voices within the evangelical camp have identified significant reasons for the tenuous nature of such a hypothesis.[250]  To make any interpretive decisions on such a tenuous approach is ill-advised.

He also finds the primary assumption of form criticism positive: “One of the positive contributions of form criticism is the recognition that in general the Gospel traditions circulated as independent oral units before being incorporated into the Gospels. Some material, however, was collected into larger complexes such as Mark 1:21-39 (45); 2:1 to 3:6; and 4:1-34 before being incorporated into our Gospels.”[251]  As this article has noted, the Gospels offer no real proof for such form-critical assertions.  Only by assuming historical-critical dogma can the assertion be buttressed.  Because this period of church history is shrouded in mystery from approximately 30 to 50 or 60 C.E., dogmatic pronouncements concerning the nature of the tradition should make such dogmatic pronouncements merely speculative. The period of 20-30 years before the gospels were written is largely unknown. Guthrie writes, “the very fact that our historical data for the first thirty years of Christian history are so limited means that form critics inevitably had to draw a good deal on imagination.”[252]

 Stein also supports K. L. Schmidt’s thesis that denigrates the historical, geographical, and chronological connections in the gospels:

It would appear that there is a great deal to be said for Schmidt’s thesis.  When one looks at much of the material in the Gospel of Mark, it appears that the accounts were, for the most part, joined together on a non-chronological basis and that they indeed existed as independent units of tradition. . . . One can easily think of the pericopes as having begun with such introductions as “Once upon a time, Jesus . . . ” or Once Jesus . . . .”[253]

Interestingly, Stein uses the traditional opening to fairy tales to describe an assumed early church introduction to these alleged isolated pericopes.

However, the particular identification of these independent units centers in the whim of the interpreter emphasizing the subjective nature of the selection.  Instead of the evolutionary idea of independent units circulating in the church over a long period of time, evidence indicates that Mark may well reflect the personal recollections of the eyewitness and Apostle, Peter that he emphasized in his preaching.  Eusebius records the words of Papias who was a personal acquaintance of the Apostle John in Ecclesiastical History 3.39: “‘And John the Presbyter also said this, mark being the interpreter [eJrmhneuvte”] of Peter whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy but not however in the order in which it was spoken or done by our Lord.”[254]

Regarding the “Criterion of Multiple Attestation,” Stein argues, “It is . . . true that this tool cannot provide historical certainty but only probability, but in historical matters this is all we can ever hope to achieve.  Faith and belief may have unique access to historical certainty, but historical research can only deal with probabilities.”[255]  Does this mean that Jesus said and did can never be known for certain?  Is certainty possible only through the eyes of faith?  Is an existential leap required?  Interestingly, he again basis probability of the historicity of the tradition upon multiple attestations within the Four-Source Hypothesis (i.e., Mark, Q, M, L).  However, as noted, increasing evidence suggests the tenuous nature of this hypothesis, and thus the tenuous nature of Stein’s assertions.  Furthermore, as has been argued, these criteria place the burden of proof upon the tradition rather than allowing an objective approach to the historical accuracy of the tradition.

Regarding the “Criterion of Divergent Patterns from Redaction,” he argues “materials in the Gospels that reflect an Evangelist’s unique theological emphasis are probably less authentic or historical, especially if they appear only in his unique material (M in Matthew and L in Luke) or in his redactional work (summaries, explanatory clauses, seams, etc.).”[256]  Thus, as with the more radical form and tradition critics, elements appearing in the Gospels to be historical can be demonstrated to be unhistorical.

Stein allows for the odd possibility of “inauthentic” but “authoritative” sayings attributed to Jesus:

If a saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospels were inauthentic, its authoritative quality would remain, for the Evangelists not only recalled what the historical Jesus said and did but were taught by the Spirit and empowered by Him to interpret what the historical Jesus said and did (John 14:26; 16:14).  Thus in the Gospels the risen Christ also speaks through his Spirit by means of his prophets and apostles.  These words are also authoritative even if not authentic.  As a result, if the inauthenticity of a sayings should be demonstrated this should not be taken to mean that this saying lacks authority.”[257]

In Matthew 5:31-32, Stein argues that the exception clause “is an interpretive comment added by Matthew” and that the version without the exception clause in Mark, Luke, and Q “is more authentic.”  Thus, according to Stein’s logic, although Matthew placed these words directly on the lips of Jesus and although the exception clause is not authentic (Jesus did not speak the exception clause—it was really Matthew’s interpretation), it would still be authoritative.[258]  In sum, however, this assertion actually results in attributing some quasi-concept of inspired deception to the gospel record.  Furthermore, how would Matthew’s readers recognize this interpretation in context?  They would not.  No indications exist that this exception clause is an interpretation.

For Stein, even if eyewitnesses of the events wrote the gospels, “it does not follow that eyewitness accounts of historical events are a priori accurate historical accounts . . . . We cannot . . . assume that we have proven the historicity of the gospel accounts even if we can that behind them stands the testimony of an eyewitness . . . . if eyewitness testimony of the gospel material should be established, then the burden of proof should rest upon those who would deny the historicity of the events reported.”[259]  For Stein, one can never be sure of the gospel events even if eyewitnesses are present.  All that eyewitnesses can do is shift the burden of proof, but doubt always remains.

Stein supports the criterion of multiple forms, arguing “it would appear reasonable to suppose that the appearance of a tradition or motif in multiple forms is supportive, even if not conclusive, evidence for . . . authenticity.”[260]  Yet, as has been demonstrated, this criteria assumes so much form-critical subjectivity that it demonstrates nothing.  He supports the Criterion of the Tendencies of the Developing Tradition, asserting that the gospel writers could change the original audience of the pericope.  Thus, according to Stein, Luke 15:4-7 preserves the original audience to whom Jesus spoke the parable of the lost sheep, while Matthew, in 18:12-14, changed the original audience of this pericope from Jesus’s opponents to the ‘church.”  While Luke has the original audience, Matthew changed it for his own theological purposes to address the situation of his own audience, i.e. Sitz im Leben of the evangelist and his audience.  Thus, for Stein, one can never be sure what the original audience of a pericope was, for the evangelist was free to change at will according to some hypothesized Sitz im Leben.  By recognizing “certain of the ‘laws’ which the tradition experienced during the oral period, such as the changing of audience in the first and second/third Sitz im Leben” one can “be better able to ascertain what is authentic”[261]  Being so thoroughly preconditioned by tradition-critical principles, he does not even consider the fact that as an itinerant preacher, Jesus may have repeated his parables to different audiences and adapted his message to those situations (thus, both audiences are original, and no postulating of fabrication on the part of the evangelists is needed).  Instead, he allows subjective postulating of hypothetical Sitz im Lebens to control any determination of what is authentic and what is not.

Stein calls multiple attestation “a helpful tool for ascertaining the authenticity of the Gospel tradition.” Indeed, he argues that “the multiple attestation of a tradition places the burden of proof upon those who would argue against the authenticity of a such a tradition.”[262]  Yet, since as has been seen, the underlying assumption of this criterion places the onus propandi on the tradition and has its basis in a highly doubtful synoptic hypothesis, one wonders how Stein has any confidence on a reversal of this burden of proof.  The intent of the criterion is to cast suspicion on the tradition not to confirm the tradition.  No amount of reform will overcome this built-in intent.  Something predicated on acute skepticism cannot produce any positive results, no matter how much it is “reformed.”

In Matthew 5:31-32, Stein advocates that Matthew placed upon the lips of Jesus the phrase “except on the ground of unchastity” as an interpretation.  He bases this on his working presupposition of the Four Source hypothesis, “It seems reasonably clear in light of the threefold testimony of Mark, Q (Luke), and Paul, and by the difficulty of the saying when it lacks the exception for unchastity, that this form of the saying (without Matthew’s ‘exception clause’) is more authentic.”[263]

Stein also considers “[t]he Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1-7:29) and the Sermon on the Plain Luke 6:20-49)” to be “literary creations of Matthew and Luke in the sense that they are collections of Jesus’ sayings that were uttered at various times and places and have been brought together due to topical considerations, i.e. in order to have an orderly account ([Luke]1:3).”  To Stein, although “there is no need, however, to deny that a historical event lies behind the scene,” no “Sermon on the Mount” or “on the plain” ever took place as presented in the gospels but was a creative, fabricated embellishment of the evangelist.[264]

Stein supports the classification of forms, preferring Taylor’s method.  However, he admits that of three major classification systems (e.g., Bultmann, Dibelius, Taylor) “only two of the categories possess a distinct form–the pronouncement stories and miracle stories. The remaining types of material are essentially formless” and classification often “does not depend upon form as much as upon content.”[265] He concludes that such “classification systems are helpful in that they provide convenient handles to refer to the various gospel traditions.”[266] Yet, such admittedly meager abilities of form criticism serve to demonstrate that the vastly superior nature of the grammatico-historical hermeneutic renders form analysis tenuous as well as subjective. In addition, Stein, like other evangelical form critic, makes so many qualifications to an evangelical approach to form criticism that the validity and usefulness of the practice are entirely suspect in spite of claims to the contrary.

Robert Guelich, in his The Sermon on the Mount (1982) follows George Ladd’s lead, his mentor, in asserting: “this commentary offers a critical exegesis in that it makes use of the literary  and historical critical tools including text, source, form, tradition, redaction, and structural criticism” and goes on to assert “for many to whom the Scriptures are vital the use of these critical tools has historically been more ‘destructive’ than ‘constructive.’  But one need not discard the tool because of its abuse.”[267]  Guelich prefers to ignore this history of abuse, for he asserts, contrary to historical evidence, “Like any other ‘tool,’ these of literary and historical criticism are basically neutral and often reflect the tendencies of the person using them . . . . But they have been refined to the extent that they offer the best instruments to date in exegeting the text.”[268]  Contrary to Guelich, as has been demonstrated in this article, literary and historical criticism are anything but “neutral” tools (see also chapter on “The Presuppositional and Theological Bent of Historical Criticism”).

Like the early form critics, Guelich does not acknowledge the authorship of the Gospel as that of the tax-collector Matthew, in spite of the overwhelming historical attestation.  He argues that his usage of the name “Matthew” in referring to the Gospel, “merely denotes the common traditional designation of the Gospel’s author.  The Gospel itself, of course, comes to us as anonymous in spite of the early church’s assignment of it to the apostle Matthew.”[269]  As a result, Guelich prefers the “evangelist” in referring to the author of the Gospel of Matthew.

As with other form critics, Guelich assumes the four-source hypothesis.[270] This presupposition controls many of his hermeneutical decisions.  Accordingly, based on this assumption (“The Sources of the Sermon on the Mount”), Guelich makes many extrapolations regarding the Sermon.[271] For Guelich, although the tradition “most likely” stem from Jesus’s ministry, the Sermon on the Mount was not actually preached by Jesus as it is presented in Matthew (or Luke): “the Sermon on the Mount, as we know it, is ultimately the literary product of the first evangelist.”[272]  Instead, “as Dibelius suggested, even this underlying tradition resulted from the early community’s compilation of various traditional units to meet their own catechal needs.”[273] In light of this, “the actual ‘Sermon’ as such came into being when the tradition was combined into its present form in the post-Easter community, a process that makes moot the question of when and where Jesus ‘preached’ the Sermon.”[274] Thus, according to Guelich, although both Matthew and Luke portray Jesus as preaching the “Sermon on the Mount,” the sermon is not actually from Jesus but the product of the Christian community and the evangelists.  Guelich contends that “Matthew has considerably changed the extent and profile of the Sermon tradition.”[275]

He asserts that originally the Beatitudes were three (see Luke 6:20-21 // Matt. 3-4, 6).  A fourth Beatitude (Luke 6:22-23 // Matt. 5:11-12) was “a separate traditional saying” that also goes back to Jesus.[276]  According to Guelich,

These four Beatitudes underwent further modification in the tradition with the change of person, with the expansion in number to eight in Matt. 5:5, 7-9, the first relating to the Beatitude of 5:3 and the other three corresponding in context to the three admonitions that followed in the tradition, and with the formulation of the antithetically parallel Woes in Luke 6:24-26, either in the tradition or by Luke.  Therefore, Matthew found eight beatitudes in his Sermon tradition which he then adapted redactionally for his own purposes.[277]

The evangelist created one beatitude (Matt. 5:10), while four more (Matt. 5:5, 7-9) are the later products of the Christian community.[278] Guelich encapsulates his thesis,

The Beatitudes of Matt. 5:3-12 indicate several stages of development.  First, the core (5:3, 4, 6 par. Luke 6:20-21) had roots extending to Jesus’ ministry to the desperate ones of his day . . . The fourth Beatitude (5:11-12, par. Luke 6:22-23) depicts the continuing struggle in this age for God’s people. . . . Second, these four Beatitudes, brought together to make a clear declarative statement as the opening of the Sermon tradition, were later expanded by the use of the Psalms and Jesus’ sayings to form four additional Beatitudes (5:5, 7-9) commensurate with Jesus’ teachings and preaching as found in the tradition.  Third, Matthew expressly adapted these Beatitudes (5:3, 4, 5, 6, 10) to Isaiah 61 in order to underline Jesus’ person and work . . . Throughout the entire process of development, these nine Beatitudes remain consistent with the Jesus of the tradition.[279]

For Guelich, the Sermon on the “Mount” never happened as presented.

Such “extensive modification” not only leaves the bewildering question of how many beatitudes Jesus originally spoke (3, 4, 8?) but even what kind of “Sermon” took place. Would the original readers of the gospel be able to determine that such was the case?  Such ephemeral and esoteric clues centering in the four-source hypothesis and cited by Guelich as to the compositional nature of the tradition do not accord with the grammatico-historical emphasis on the perspicuity of Scripture.  Sadly, Guelich’s assertions are based not on any objective analysis, but by the subjective whim of the interpreter utilizing, as Guelich terms them, the “neutral tools” of historical criticism (e.g., form and redaction criticism).  Many have decried the Jesus Seminar’s decision to vote out the fourth beatitude (“The Jesus Seminar decides what Jesus did and did not say”), but evangelicals like Guelich do the very same thing.[280]

Guelich contends that “Matthew’s Gospel and the Sermon in particular reflect the portrait artist’s freedom to modulate, modify, relocate, rearrange, restructure, and restate as exercised by the community in the traditional process and by the evangelist’s redaction.”[281]  This comment reveals that, for Guelich, not only does the Sermon often not reflect what Jesus said, but that the tradition was considerably modified by Christian community and the evangelist.  All three Sitz im Lebens (i.e. Jesus, the Christian community, and the evangelist) exist for Guelich, so that not only the words but even the thoughts of Jesus are obscured by layers of life situations originating in the community and through the redaction of the evangelist.  His conclusions result in a hopeless quagmire of seeking to determine whether Jesus actually said what is written in the gospel or whether it was reshaped by the Christian community or the evangelist. Under Guelich’s system one can never be sure what was originally said by Jesus, if indeed, it was spoken at all by him or where it actually took place.

Guelich asserts that “the references to persecution and suffering, the deliberate contrast with ‘the scribes and Pharisees’ and ‘hypocrites,’ and the use of the Old Testament passages and types suggest an apologetic and polemical tone commensurate with a community that now found itself separated from and at odds with a Jewish community that now stood under the judgment of having rejected Jesus Messiah and his followers.”[282] Yet, such factors are presented contextually in Matthew 5-7 as an integral whole within the Sermon and as coming from the lips of Jesus as he spoke to the disciples and multitudes present at the actual, historical occasion of the Sermon.  The most natural understanding of these factors is that they reveal the historic situation of Jesus (i.e., His tensions and conflicts with the Jewish community as a whole during His lifetime) rather than any esoteric and subjective revelation of the situation of the evangelist’s community.  Any assertions to the contrary exist more in the form and redactional imagination of Guelich rather than being actually or clearly discernible in the Gospel.

Guelich also claims that the evangelist addressed a threat “of a strict Jewish-Christian attempt to maintain the Law of Moses by using the Jesus tradition as its basis and doubtless raised questions anew regarding the nature of the gospel and Gentile mission.”[283] Guelich contends, “Matthew saw their presence as a threat so serious that he reshaped their Jesus tradition (e.g. 5:17-19) to counter and warn his community about these ‘false prophets’ (7:15-23).  Thus the sermon must be read within the context of Judaism and a rigorous Jewish-Christianity.”[284]  He goes on to contend regarding Matthew 5:17-20 that “In no other section of the Sermon does the meaning of the passage depend so much on the use of tradition and redaction . . . . Consequently, the primary focus of the exegesis of 5:17-20 centers on the literary questions of form, source, and redaction.” He contends that “one can attempt to delineate the various stages in the development of this unit with its differing, at times conflicting, meanings.”[285] Furthermore, Guelich contends that the evangelist sometimes adds to the tradition “on the basis of ‘an unconscious association of ideas’ with little or no theological basis.”[286]

Guelich blurs interpretation and application, for while warnings of persecution may have application to Christians at any time, a grammatico-historical interpretation of the passage legitimately must link the Sermon to only one Sitz im Leben: the earthly life of Jesus.  This latter thought receives reinforcement by the fact that the life situations proposed for isolated units of tradition centers in pure speculation. No beliefs of the period when the synoptic gospels were produced can be or should be distinguished from the teachings of Jesus.  Alleged Sitz im Lebens of the Christian community or evangelist is entirely based in acute subjectivity and imagination of the interpreter.  No adequate proof that the material owed its present shape to the practical needs of an assumed community. The Book of Acts and Paul’s epistles actually give very little information on the history of the early church.  How can we reconstruct the church situation of the gospels when nothing of the church community history is given?  To an overwhelmingly large degree, form critics have invented a Sitz im Leben of the church.

To Guelich, the evangelist displays authorial ineptitude with the tradition in 5:17-20 for “By adding or the Prophets to this context, the evangelist alters the saying from being a reference to Jesus’ coming related specifically to the Law to being a reference to Jesus’s coming related generally to the Scriptures. This modification has resulted in the blurring of the antithesis between the verbs kataluvw and plhrovw.”[287] He goes on to argue that the evangelists reworking of the antithesis of 5:17 “has lost its sharpness since kataluvw and plhrovw no longer express a clear antithesis with reference to the object Scriptures.  Whereas Jesus’ coming to fulfill the Scriptures makes good sense, to annul or to destroy is awkward at best both lexically and materially. Jesus was hardly viewed as annulling or destroying the Scriptures in general.”[288] Guelich explains this authorial ineptitude by “the differentiation between the pre-Matthean and Matthean forms of 5:17.”[289] He also bases “modification” of the tradition in 5:17 upon his assumed “Jewish-Christian misuse of the saying for their purposes” of promoting legalism.[290]

Sadly, after Guelich’s analysis, one is left wondering whether Jesus actually spoke 5:17-20, whether or to what extent the tradition actually existed in the community, or to what extend the imagination of the evangelist was working and how poorly it was operating.  Again, would Matthew’s readers have been capable of detecting the esoteric signals that indicated the substantial modification of the material by the “pre-Matthean tradition?”  The evangelist presents 5:17-20 as coming exactly from the lips of Jesus which are the most natural reading and understanding of the passage.  Was the early church so devoid of historical interest (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:10, 12)?  Importantly, should such conclusions be reached based upon the tenuous and extremely subjective nature of Guelich’s hypothesized historical situation existing for Matthew and his audience?  Once again, Guelich’s imagination is at work rather than a grammatico-historical analysis of the Sermon.

Guelich also appears to support Schmidt’s contention for the artificial nature of geographical and chronological connections.  Indeed, for Guelich one cannot ever be sure that “the tradition” reflects “a theological tendency to localize events such as with calling of the Twelve, the Sermon, the Transfiguration, and the Olivet Discourse on a mountain” and “to what extent was this a historically accurate description of the location of the events . . . or . . . both?”  He continues, “the ultimate answer to this question lies beyond our historical control . . . . the combination of the Sermon tradition with the traditional mountain setting for the calling for the Twelve may have resulted merely from the Church’s catechetical interest in the Q Sermon material for new ‘disciples’ in the early church.”[291]  In other words, the church’s primary interest in the tradition may reflect “the Church’s catechetical interests” and be a creation of the Christian community and the redaction of the evangelist.[292]  To Guelich, was the early church so devoid of historical interest that a literary device was used as a means to an end of instructing disciples?  For Guelich, the ultimate question of where the Sermon on the “Mountain” took place is obscured by the early church’s lack of interest in such details.[293]  Guelich’s analyses throughout reveals a mind that is thoroughly preconditions by the negative presuppositions of historical criticism.

Mounce serves as another example of this tendency to dehistoricize the gospel tradition.  He argues, “We are not to think of the Sermon on the Mount as a single discourse given by Jesus at one particular time.  Undoubtedly, there was a primitive and actual sermon, but it has been enlarged significantly by Matthew.”[294]  Thus, for Mounce, what appears in Matthew 5-7 is not what actually took place as presented in Matthew.  The Sermon is a creation or fabrication (“enlarged significantly”) of Matthew where words and sayings are placed onto the lips of Jesus that he did not speak on the occasion presented.

He cites several reasons as the basis for his postulating a synthetic creation known as the “Sermon on the Mount:” 1)  “As a master teacher Jesus would not expect his listeners to be able to absorb this much ethical instruction at one time.” “Even if Jesus cold have delivered the entire Sermon at one sitting, that would have been pedagogically unsound and psychologically unwise.” 2) “Certain sections appear disconnected from what precedes and follows (e.g. 5:31, 32; 7:7-11);” 3) “More importantly” . . . “thirty-four of the verses found in Matthew’s sermon (which totals 107 verses) are not found in Luke’s record of the event (Luke 6:20-49).”[295]

Mounce’s first reason has no basis in reality, for, unlike modern teaching techniques, Jewish teachers of Jesus’s time stressed content and memorization.[296]  Moreover, Jesus addressed the Sermon primarily to his disciples so content would naturally be expected (5:1); both Mounce’s first and second reason completely ignore the beginning and concluding formulas (5:1; 7:28-29 cf. 11:113:53;19:1) that indicate not only authenticity but one single occasion.  Matthew gives no clues in the immediate context that this was not what Jesus spoke on one occasion so that Matthew’s readers would naturally have understood the Sermon as delivered on one historical occasion. Mounce’s third reason assumes that Jesus spoke these sayings only once and did not consider that as an itinerant preacher Jesus may well have uttered these sayings on more than one occasion, and this would account for the scattering of sayings in Luke (e.g. Luke 12:22-31 cf. Matthew 6:25-34).

Hagner appears to echo an assessment somewhat like that of Bultmann regarding the negative portrayal of the Pharisees in the gospel tradition, especially Matthew 23:13-39.  While Bultmann argues that “the schematic presentation according to which Pharisees and scribes are from the outset the sworn enemies of Jesus is certainly unhistorical,” Hagner comments,

Taken at face value Matthew 23:13-39 represents anything but an attractive picture of the Pharisees.  Jesus accused them of hypocrisy and pretentiousness, and pronounced upon them a succession of woes (seven in all) culminating in the terrible climactic exclamation: ‘You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?’ (23:33).  It is a tragedy that from this ch. in Matthew the word ‘Pharisee’ has come to mean popularly a self-righteous, hypocritical pig.  Unfortunately not even Christian scholarship was able over the centuries to rid itself of an unfair bias against the Pharisees.[297]

Hagner relates that much of this negative assessment stems partly from anti-Semitism and especially from neglecting rabbinic literature, and only by considering the rabbinic literature can a balanced picture of the Pharisees be developed (“it will do not good to shut the eyes to the positive qualities of Pharisaism as revealed in the rabbinic literature”).[298]  Wyatt goes so far as to propose that “studies have demonstrated that an accurate portrayal of the Pharisees can be attained only by a comparison of the three major sources.”[299]

Westerholm concurs with this thinking. He argues, “Gospel texts depicting certain Pharisees, when detached from their historical context and seen as portraying Jewish piety as a whole, have prevented Christians from arriving at a sympathetic understanding of Judaism.  The concern of much contemporary scholarship to portray Judaism (and Pharisaism) in its own terms represents an important corrective.” According to Westerholm, this negativity in Matthew owes its existence to a hypothetical Sitz im Leben that assumes some type of tension between Matthew’s community and Jews: “Matthew’s community, which includes both Jewish and Gentile Christians, clearly lives in an environment with a noticeable Jewish presence. Relations are tense, and the Matthean community perceives itself to be the object of persecution (cf. 5:10-12; 10:17-18; 23:34).”[300] One is left wondering whether Matthew’s portrayal is actually reflecting Jesus’s historical situation and true condition of the Pharisees or whether the evangelist Matthew has a hidden agenda and selectively distorts the “true” picture of the Pharisees in reaction to some hypothetical situation of persecution because of Pharisaical dominance.  According to Westerholm’s logic, the latter is the real case and responsible for this distortion of an accurate portrait of the Pharisees.

Yet, contrary to this kind of thinking, surely one must consider Jesus’s (and the Scripture’s) own portrayal of the spiritual condition of the Pharisees in Matthew as the true and consistently accurate assessment since he knew the hearts of men (cf. John 2:24; Matt. 5:20) and the disciples, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were conveying that correct, historical assessment rather than rabbinical literature or Josephus.

An evangelical form critic, Bock, contends, “In the hands of a skilled exegete who uses the tools of interpretation in a way that fits what they are capable of, Form Criticism can be a fruitful aid to understanding and to exposition.”[301] Bock appears to favor Klaus Berger’s form-critical approach,[302] but he admits “This surgery on Form Criticism probably strikes some as no longer being Form Criticism, but what it represents is a slimmed down version that allows the tool to do what it does best, which is to describe.”[303]  This admission is telling.  Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Berger’s approach merely describes without reaching a negative conclusion regarding historicity, labeling this version as “form criticism” supplies an aberrant definition and understanding of form criticism both presuppositionally and historically.  Moreover, if the role of form criticism is “to describe” then it is entirely unnecessary.[304] One must also remember the words of Bultmann, ” I am entirely in agreement with M. Dibelius when he maintains that form-criticism is not simply an exercise in aesthetics nor yet simply a process of description or classification; that is to say, it does not consist of identifying the individual units of the tradition according to their aesthetics or other characteristics and placing them in their various categories. It is much rather ‘to discover the origin and the history of the particular units and thereby to throw some light on the history of the tradition before it took literary form.'”[305]  Form criticism by its origin and design was intended to do more than merely describe.  Bock supplies an aberrant definition that those who originated and designed the practiced would most likely not accept and which is foreign to the historical and presuppositional development. From the outset, Bultmann, Dibelius, and others who originated the discipline, declared that form criticism involves much more than classification but also makes inherent judgments on historicity, for it views the gospels as the product of the Christian community rather than eyewitness accounts by the apostles whose names they bear.  Evangelicals must not enervate terminology and definition as a pretext for demonstrating “scholarly” involvement in historical-critical disciplines (e.g. a text without a context is a pretext) in attempting to invite broad-based appeal.

Since the Reformation, the grammatico-historical hermeneutic, in the hands of a skillful exegete, has successfully supplied genre descriptions without the negative conclusions in terms of historicity and the miraculous than has form-critical analysis.  Only the grammatico-historical method supplies the necessary checks and balances against the predilections of form criticism to eisegete rather than exegete the text. Moreover, the grammatico-historical hermeneutic operates from the presupposition of the inerrancy of Scripture, while form criticism does not.

In contradistinction to Bock, Grant correctly and honestly contends that the negative evaluations of form criticism concerning historicity is integral to the discipline and must not be separated:

It was maintained . . . that form criticism had nothing to do with the historicity of events whose purported records had been handed down orally, but only with the outward form of the tradition; but this was an impossible view.  All literary criticism of the New Testament is ultimately historical criticism.[306]

This conclusion is more intellectually honest with its assessment of historical-critical disciplines and is confirmed by the high incidence of the negation of historicity of the tradition by those evangelicals who are linked to the more conservative evangelical camp and yet practice historical-critical methods.

Bock goes on to assert that “As long as one does not deny that the origins of the tradition go back to the participants, this search for the Sitz im Leben in the church need not be a problem and in fact can help show the way to methods one might use to teach the account today.”[307]  This statement ignores the subjective nature of determining some alleged Sitz im Leben beyond that of the historical situation of Jesus.  It allows the imagination of the interpreter to roam with few checks and balances.  Importantly, the interpreter has no actual way of determining the sitz in Leben in the church beyond acute speculation that has no place in exegesis.  The aim of the Gospel writers is to write a Gospel about Jesus, not a church addressing some esoteric problem that few readers of the Gospel could even begin to identify or decode.  The early church was interested in the historical Jesus and would naturally want to know what he taught and why.  No evidence exists for any hypothesized Christian community and its alleged Sitz im Leben(s) apart from the gospels themselves.  Unchecked imagination drives the engine of the hypothesized community situation.

Hooker, although somewhat favorable to form analysis, correctly identifies the subjective nature of determining a Sitz im Leben in the church,

We have no independent knowledge of the groups which formed the pericopes which we are discussing, and we can only deduce the needs and interests of the community which shaped the material from the material itself.  The Sitz im Leben to which a pericope is assigned—often with great confidence—is only a hypothesis, and sometimes one feels that the hypotheses demonstrate an excessive endowment of imaginative ability on the part of those who put them forward . . . whether or not the early Church was adept at thinking up stories about Jesus to fit Church situations, the form-critics are certainly adept at thinking up Church situations to fit the stories of Jesus.[308]

The “life-situation” (or, Sitz im Leben) proposed for isolated units of tradition centers in pure speculation.  The goal of sound hermeneutics must be to avoid subjectivity as much as possible not to add layers of additional speculation.  Sound exegesis demands the maintenance of objectivity on the part of the interpreter and the suppressing of speculative imagination regarding an assumed “Sitz im Leben in the church.”  Only the grammatico-historical hermeneutic supplies the time tested and necessary checks and balances to avoid eisegesis.  Certainly form criticism has demonstrated the exact opposite.  Form criticism, whose very nature centers in a speculative, subjective, and questionable hermeneutic hypothesis should not be labeled as “a fruitful aid to understanding and to exposition.”  Form criticism, regardless of whatever “modified” form is pursued, is inherently inclined to assume without adequate proof that the gospel material owed its present shape to practical needs of the Christian community.  Furthermore, the form-critical tendency to dehistoricize or discount the Gospel narratives centers in assuming some sort of dichotomy between the post-Easter and Pre-Easter periods based upon hypothesizing separate Sitz im Lebens for these two periods.  Evangelicals continue to court hermeneutical disaster by embracing form-critical directions.

Contrary to Bock’s assertions, form criticism is also hermeneutically misguided. Inspiration and inerrancy extends to the written text not the period behind the gospel.  Form criticism is not necessary to discover what Jesus taught, nor is form criticism necessary to understand the gospels adequately.  The Gospels are not reinterpretations of the life of Christ to fit the historical situation of some later Christian community.  Most importantly, the grammatico-historical hermeneutic recognizes only one Sitz im Leben as legitimate: that of the earthly life of Jesus as presented in the Gospels.  Evangelicals must also recognize the gospels for what they are: apostolic eyewitness (or acquaintances of eyewitnesses) reporting of what actually took place.  To go beyond this invites hermeneutical disaster.

This tendency toward hermeneutical disaster is seen in Bock’s proposal that Matthew 13 and Mark 4 are most likely anthologies or collections of sayings.  To Bock, these  See Thomas, page 21 and Bock, p. 718, 742-743.

The evangelical concern for multiple Sitz im Lebens extends even to preaching.  According to Greidanus, one needs to remember two horizons in preaching: that of the historical Jesus and that of the evangelist.  Moreover, one should preach mainly from the horizon of the evangelist, not that of Jesus.  Greidanus argues,

Many preachers almost automatically opt for the horizon of the historical Jesus, preaching sermons on Jesus calling his disciples, Jesus healing the sick, Jesus challenging the Pharisees, etc. and applying  the message from that original horizon to the church today.  The question may be raised, however, if this aproach does full justice to the written text . . . . The Gospels, however, are not transparent windowpanes but distinctly colored presentations of the historical Jesus. To look right through the written text to Jesus’ historical horizon is to miss the kerygmatic point made by the Gospel writer in a later horizon.[309]

Greidanus continues, “Which horizon has priority, that of the historical Jesus or that of the Gospel writer?  Although the horizon of Jesus is chronologically prior, one learns about the historical Jesus only through the later Gospel writer.  Hence, one’s interpretation needs to begin with the horizon of the Gospel writer.”[310] Thus, the superimposition of acute subjectivity of some assumed Sitz im Leben of the evangelist or his community becomes the starting point for teaching and proclaiming the Scripture.  This position renders the historical situation of Jesus as secondary and the superimposition of the creative imagination of the interpreter as a primary starting point in the understanding of the meaning of Scripture.  Consequently, eisegesis reigns in the interpretation of Scripture rather than a proper exegesis that must originate from the historical situation of Jesus as contained in the Gospels.

Catchpole, in New Testament Interpretation, advocates the use of tradition critical principles.  Catchpole asserts, “the gospel tradition itself compels us to engage in tradition-historical inquiry.”  He goes on, “we can hardly avoid attributing to the later post-Easter stage both the redaction of material and, on occasion, its creation.”[311]  Arguing from a tradition-historical basis, Catchpole asserts that Matthew 18:17 could not have been spoken by Jesus. He contends:

This saying has in mind a disciplinary purification of the community, which is somewhat discordant with the message of the two parables of the two parables of the wheat and the tares (Mt. 13:24-30), and the dragnet (Matt. 13:47f.).  Moreover, the saying presupposes an audience which is Jewish and which also deprecates and excludes Gentiles and tax collectors.  This seems most unlike the historical Jesus.  The exclusion of Gentiles was hardly his approach: quite the contrary, he announced in word (18:11ff.) and action (Mk. 11:15-17) their acceptance and continually held them up as those whose example the Jews should follow in responding to the appeal or word of God (Lk. 7:9; 10:12-14; 11:31f.).  And what applies to the Gentiles applies even more forcefully to the tax collectors.  It was their inclusion, their joyful participation in his fellowship meals, their genuine repentance, which Jesus was prepared to defend with vigour and in the teeth of scathing criticism (Lk. 7:34; 15:1ff.; Mark 2:15-17).[312]

In light of this logic, he concludes, “So it appears to be unlikely that Matthew 18:17 is authentic; indeed, it seems to represent a later acceptance of attitudes which Jesus himself had resisted.”[313] Yet, Catchpole’s conclusion is not based on any convincing evidence but what he subjectively perceives to be an inconsistency in the Gospel at this point.  Catchpole basis his argument not upon objective criteria, but only a subjective opinion (perhaps a better word is “whim”) that it “seems” like Matthew 18:17 does not belong here or that such an action “seems most unlike the historical Jesus.”  It allows great subjective bias to determine what is authentic and what is not. Therein lies the danger of picking and choosing what the interpreter deems is authentic from what is not.

On the contrary, a very cogent case can be made that the overall contextual outworking of Matthew reveals that Matthew, the Jewish tax collector, and eyewitness of these events, places great emphasis on the primacy of Jesus’s mission to the Jews.  The focus of Matthew is upon the primacy of the offer of the kingdom to the Jews (Matt. 4:17, 23) that was promised in the Old Testament (Is. 42:1-3). Jesus warns his disciples not to go to the Gentiles or Samaritans in proclaiming the message of the kingdom (10:5-6).  In 15:24, Jesus states to the Canaanite woman “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” yet still heals her son due to her expression of faith. This stress is consistent with the Old Testament promises that Messiah would first offer salvation to Israel and also be a light to the Gentiles (Is. 42:5-9; 61:1-3 cf. John 4:22).  Paul also stressed the primacy of the Jews role in salvation and first hearing the message of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16; 2:9-10) and such a conviction governed his own early missionary efforts (Acts 13:5, 44-48; 14:1-2).

Furthermore, the focus of 18:17 is not so much upon deprecating Gentiles and tax-gatherers as it centers on the prevailing Jewish attitudes toward such groups in terms of exclusion.  Jesus’s point is that in the same way that Jews exclude Gentiles and tax-collectors, so should the church(or, assembly) treat the sinning members who do not repent.  The focus of the comparison is upon the manner of exclusion not deprecation.

If such a statement in Matthew 18:17 (“let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer”) were produced by the post-Easter church, then would not statements centering on the universal ministry of Jesus to the Gentiles be placed more likely onto the lips of Jesus by the post-Easter Church than statements centering in ministry exclusive to Jews?  That this and other sayings like it were preserved is a manifest testimony to the authenticity of the tradition rather than its inauthenticity. For conservative evangelicals, the best way to proceed is to operate solely on the basis of the authenticity of the saying and allow the text to speak for itself.

Catchpole also doubts the authenticity of Matthew 23:2-3. He argues that “such a saying undergirds Pharisaic traditional teaching with Mosaic authority and accepts Moses as the final court of appeal . . . . But this historic Jesus does not seem to have adopted so conservative an attitude to either tradition or law.”  Catchpole concludes regarding these verses, “we would have to ask whether an alternative post-Easter setting is available for Matthew 23-2f.  In view of the Pharisaic membership and theological influence within the church, which is attested in Acts 15:5, 21:10 (cf. Gal. 2:4f., 12), the answer might not be hard to reach.”[314]  For Catchpole, as well as the radical form and tradition critics sighted in this article, the Christian community attributed words and sayings to Jesus that he did not say, and a distinction must be drawn between what the historical Jesus said and did and the post-Easter activity of the early church that attributed words and deed to Jesus that he did not really say.

In addition, Catchpole dismisses the idea that Jesus spoke Matthew 11:19.  Instead, “the form of Matthew 11:19 is the product of the evangelists intervention.”  Relying heavily on the two-Gospel hypothesis, he dismisses sayings in Matthew that equate Jesus with “wisdom” because “Q and Luke are witnesses to the existence of a christology which does not go beyond the view that Jesus is a messenger of Wisdom.”  Instead, sayings of Jesus where he is equated with wisdom is a later product of the early church and “Matthew’s community.” In terms of the gospel tradition developments, Catchpole thinks in evolutionary terms: “we have to learn to live with a greater degree of raggedness at the edges and a less neat evolutionary process than would emerge if we envisaged a straight and consecutive development from Jesus to the Aramaic-speaking and Hellenistic Jewish-Christian outlooks and ultimately to the Gentile Christian position.” For Catchpole, this evolutionary development produced “varied” and competing theologies within the Christian community.[315]  He also affirms the basic distinction between the form-critical concept of historie and geschichte:

The gospels do belong to Jesus and also to the churches.  For Jesus this means that he is seen as  not merely historisch, a figure of the past, but also one whom we can see within the developing tradition as truly geschichtlich, that is, a person whose relevance is explored and exploited ever and again in places far removed from Galilee and Jerusalem and in times long after A.D. 30.[316]

Osborne also supports “a positive reappraisal of criteria for studying development tradition.”  He argues that “criteria should build on a positive foundation and seek to authenticate rather than disprove genuineness.”[317] Once again, Osborne tries to reform principles that inherently make the tradition suspect no matter how one attempts reforms them.  Ultimately the question centers in this: to whom is he attempting to demonstrate authenticity?  If he attempts to demonstrate authenticity to a group (historical critics) that ultimately do not want to accept his a priori assumption of the genuineness of the tradition, then no matter how much he attempts to reform tradition critical principles, such critics will not be moved in the slightest to accept his conclusions.  The massive shift in biblical scholarship as a whole (apart from evangelicals) has been toward inherent suspicion of the tradition.  No amount of attempted “positive” spin of these inherently negative principles will carry weight with the vast majority.  If he is attempting to demonstrate the authenticity of the tradition to those evangelicals already inclined to accept the tradition as genuine, then at best, all that Osborne’s tradition-critical principles might offer is a tenuous possibility that the tradition might be from Jesus.  Even Osborne admits that his criteria “can do no more than show probability” and  are “so tentative.”  He can only decry the fact that this conclusion is “unwarranted pessimism.”[318]  Yet, one sees little value in such tentative judgments through such subjective principles.  Such pessimism regarding Osborne’s principles, however, actually centers not so much in pessimism but on a sober understanding of the true nature of these tradition-critical principles as presuppositionally and historically developed.  Osborne’s concludes,

 [T]here is no reason to ignore or repudiate Traditionsgeschichte as a positive tool for investigating the life and unfolding theology of the early Church.  When he control the negative dangers and wield the tool with honesty and sensitivity, the results will magnify the Word of God and continue the exciting discovery of ultimate truth in our time.[319]

However, even Osborne himself has not been able to control the “negative dangers” inherent in historical-critical methods, for at one time he advocated that Matthew had expanded the wording of the Great Commission: “it seems most likely that at some point the tradition or Matthew expanded an original monadic formula.”[320]  Thus, for Osborne, Jesus did not speak the Great Commission as it appears in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus originally told the disciples to baptize in the name of the Father but that monadic stipulation was expanded into the “triadic baptismal formula of Matt 28:19” in order to “interpret the true meaning of Jesus’ message for his own day . . . . However, we can know that Matthew has faithfully reproduced the intent and meaning of what Jesus said.[321]  “Due to “widespread dissatisfaction,”  Osborne later attempted to revise his explanation.[322]

Osborne also appears to think in evolutionary terms in the development of the gospel.

Carson, Moo, and Morris, in a section entitled, “the Evolution of the Synoptic Gospels,” discuss form criticism.[323]  They decry the work of Bultmann and Dibelius for negating the historicity of the Gospels and assert that “Radical historical judgements . . . are not intrinsic to form criticism” and “form criticism entails no a priori judgment about the historicity of the material that it analyzes.”  Yet, as this article has shown, the very the presuppositions and history that led to the tenets of form criticism center in virulent antisupernaturalism (e.g. K. L. Schmidt’s denegration of the chronological and geographical framework led to the hypothesizing of individual pericopes). The development form criticism was not possible without such factors. To say that form criticism entails no a priori judgment about historicity either ignores form criticism’s history or attempts to supply an aberrant understanding to the term at the very least (“defined narrowly”). As has been demonstrated in this article, even evangelical from critics make such a prior judgments about historicity.  Carson himself supplies another example of the tendency of evangelicals to dehistoricize the gospels accounts.  In the pericope of the commissioning of the twelve (Matt. 10:5-42 //, reflecting Wenham’s position, he argues, “it is possible that some sayings of Jesus, repeated by him often and on diverse occasions, were jotted down in a sort of amalgam form encapsulating their substance and then used by the evangelists in different contexts and adapted accordingly.” For Carson, the door is now open to assume that what appears in the Gospels may not be what actually was, and in the case of the commissioning of the twelve in Matthew 10, the sermon may have come from a variety of sources (i.e. “Q”) rather than on one historical occasion.[324]

In addition, Carson, Moo, and Morris accept several key evolutionary-driven assumptions, including the concept of “small units” of gospel material circulating orally in the Christian community and “the two-source hypothesis” as “the best overall explanation for the relationship among the Synoptic Gospels.”[325]


Several conclusions ensue from this discussion:  First, the practice of form and tradition criticism must be considered in light of their historical and presuppositional developments.  Form and tradition criticism are no more valid than the presuppositional and historical foundations that led to their development. If the foundations of a methodology are tenuous, then so is any practice of that methodology. The presuppositions and history of form and tradition criticism lead to the obvious conclusion that a radical and virulent antisupernaturalism along with evolutionary dogma led to their development

Second, evangelicals who attempt to practice “modified” versions of these disciplines either must attempt to ignore the presuppositional and historical impetuses that produced fundamental assumptions or supply an aberrant definition of the practice. In either case, the high failure rate of evangelicals to avoid the negative presuppositions of these disciples decisively demonstrates that these negative presuppositions are wedded to the practice and cannot be separated.

Third,  since the gospels were written by apostles and eyewitnesses, they reflect an eyewitness account of what happened, i.e. only one Sitz im Leben truly exists–that of the period of the earthly life, death, and resurrection of the Messiah. Moreover, the Holy Spirit supernaturally guided and aided the formation of the gospel records (John 14:26; 16:13).  The practice of these disciplines by evangelicals completely ignores and impugns this work of the Holy Spirit by positing errors and outright falsehoods in the gospels. Although the Gospels convey theology and are selective not exhaustive (John 21:30), this factor does not militate against the fact they are accurate historical and biographical works of Jesus life.

Fourth, since the Reformation (1517), the grammatico-historical hermeneutic has been the time-proven safeguard in hermeneutics that actively downplays subjectivity, and, instead, emphasizes objectivity in interpreting the written documents plainly and normally, according to the rules of grammar and the facts of history.  Evangelicals who depart from this foundational hermeneutic and practice form and tradition criticism are courting hermeneutical disaster.  Inspiration and inerrancy extend to the documents themselves, not to any hypothesized oral period or sources behind the gospels. The grammatico-historical hermeneutic alone is capable of identifying all literary genres without the negative presuppositions of form and tradition criticism.  Any one of these four factors alone are entirely sufficient reasons for rejecting form and tradition criticism.

Sadly, in this evangelical dialogue with liberals and their methodologies, the liberals have not changed their essential practice.  Evangelicals are the ones who have demonstrated such a willingness to change through compromise with dangerous hermeneutical methodologies. They have done all of the changes to the detriment of the Word. The price necessary to dialogue is not worth the cost to the Word. The time has come to expose these hypotheses as tenuous and philosophically-motivated agendas rather than their masquerade as objective purveyors of truth. An iron to all of this is that evangelicals are using principles inherently hostile to the Word to “confirm” the authenticity of the Scripture; principles that cannot possibly lead to any form of certainty regarding the gospels; principles that were inherently designed not to lead to any form of objectivity.  How then may they possibly be used as effective weapons against the liberal charge of non-historicity especially since they are being used for purposes that they were not intended?

The liberal theological world at large has squeezed evangelicals into its mold in the practice of form and tradition criticism.  This sad situation has resulted from an incessant desire by some evangelicals to “dialogue” with their liberal counterparts in hopes of demonstrating “scholarship” and perhaps also to obtain a voice of influence or recognition in the liberal camp. While a host of evangelicals may be sighted as to the adverse influence of form and redaction, few, if any, liberals have been influenced by evangelicals to adopt a more conservative stance in this attempt at dialogue.  Sadly, in the evangelical drive to keep up with the “theological Jonses,” evangelicals are the ones who have adversely changed not their liberal counterparts. As a result, evangelicals, as well as liberals now, impugn the integrity and authority of Scripture through the practice of these methodologies.

Robert Yarbrough, in an article entitled “Evangelical Theology in Germany,” has catalogued an interesting development: a significant trend (“of considerable moment”) in current German scholarship from “a dissenting voice, small but hardly still” is toward abandoning historical-critical methods as bankrupt methodologies.  They call “for spiritual renewal and biblical fidelity in a land which has done much to undermine, or at least radically redefine, both of these in recent generations.”[326]  According to Maier, historical-criticism “has arrived at the end of a blind alley.”[327]

The evangelical drive to keep up with the “theological Jones” and dialogue with current methodologies should perhaps catch up to this trend:  rejection of historical-critical methods.  Only in this way would they fulfill their desire of being truly on the cutting edge of scholarship.  Evangelicals dance on the edge of hermeneutical and, as a result, theological disaster, with historical-critical methods such as form and tradition criticism, for they have pushed the Scriptures over the dangling precipice that is historical criticism.

[1] The Encarta Dictionary defines Form criticism as “a method of analyzing the Bible to determine the presumed original oral form of the written text by removing known historical conventions that emerged at a later period.” Hayes and Holladay, proponents of the so-called historical-critical methodologies offer the following on Form Criticism,

“Form criticism seeks to identify various literary genres and then to classify a passage within one of these genres. Form critics also recognize that literary classification is not enough. They also try to ascertain the “situation in life” (German: Sitz im Leben) in which genres originated and developed. The phrase “in life” reminds us that what we experience as literary forms–something we read–originally had a “life setting.” Imagining different situations in life, such as worship, teaching, preaching, and argument, enables us to appreciate the original oral form of literary genres. What we experience as formalized, written genres typically acquired their literary shape through oral repetition.”–John H. Hayes; Carl R. Holladay (2010-11-05). Biblical Exegesis, 3rd ed. (pp. 104-105). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

It should be noted that these definitions make form criticism seem innocent, which could not be further from the truth. I define these approaches by historical/ideological background. The definitions do not reveal their true intentions, i.e. to dehistoricize and control the text as to meaning, i.e. make it suitable to the critics ideologies rather than to the plain normal sense of Scripture.

[2] The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines tradition criticism as a “study of biblical literature, method of criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the New Testament that attempts to trace the developmental stages of the oral tradition, from its historical emergence to its literary presentation in scripture. Scholars of the Hebrew Bible might, for example, study the development of a narrative tradition about the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) or the judges (such as Deborah and Samuel) as it unfolded over several generations. New Testament scholars often pay special attention to the oral stage of Gospel transmission, investigating both the record of the ministry of Jesus and the development of Christian theology in the short preliterary. stage.”

It should be noted that these definitions make tradition criticism seem innocent, which could not be further from the truth. I define these approaches by historical/ideological background. The definitions do not reveal their true intentions, i.e. to dehistoricize and control the text as to meaning, i.e. make it suitable to the critics ideologies rather than to the plain normal sense of Scripture.

[3]For further information on the ideological, as well as philosophical, basis of historical-critical methodologies, consult the excellent work of the post-Bultmannian turned evangelical Eta Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible, Methodology or Ideology?  Translated by Robert W. Yarbrough (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990).

[4] Norman Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), 218.

[5] See “Preface” in E. Basil Redlich, Form Criticism, Its Value and Limitations (London: Duckworth, 1939), n.p.

[6] Robert A. Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, A Foundation for Understanding (Waco, TX.: Word, 1982), 23.

[7] Darrell L. Bock, “Form Criticism,” in New Testament Criticism and Interpretation. Edited by David A. Black and David S. Dockery (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 192.

[8] Alister McGrath, “Why Evangelicalism is the Future of Protestantism,” Christianity Today, June 19, 1995, 18-23.

[9] Rudolf Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition. Translated by John Marsh. Revised Edition (Basil Blackwell, 1963; Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson, n.d.), 3-4

[10] S. v. “Criticism,” by F. F. Bruce, in ISBE, 1:822.

[11] Eta Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible, Methodology or Ideology?  Translated by Robert W. Yarbrough (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 111.

[12] S. v. “Historie; Geschichte/geschichtlich; historisch,” in Handbook of Biblical Criticism. Edited by Richard N. Soulen (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), 88-89.

[13] Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology, 11-21; For an overview of Bultmann’s method of demythologization, s. v. “Myth” by M. J. A. Horsnell, ISBE, vol. 3, 461-463.

[14] Werner H. Kelber, The Oral and Written Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), 5-6.

[15] McKnight, What is Form Criticism?, 18.

[16] An exception to this principle would be the passion narrative.  Early form critics asserted that this very early existed as a connected narrative.  Taylor remarks, “[T]he Gospel tradition came to be mainly a collection of isolated stories, sayings, and sayings-groups.  The most important exception to the dissolving process continued to be the Passion Story which existed in the form of short accounts of the Arrest, Trial, and Crucifixion of Jesus current at different centres of primitive Christianity.”   See Vincent Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition (London: Macmillan, 1953), 169-170.

[17] This period varies among form critics.  The period starts between C.E. 30-33 and goes anywhere between C.E. 50 and 70.  For example, Dibelius saw this period as between C.E. 30 and C.E. 70.   See Martin Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel (Charles Scribner’s Sons, n.d.), 9-10.  Taylor sees the period from about 30 to around C.E. 50 when the alleged “Q” document was composed with the oral period ending from C. E. 65 to 100 when the Gospels and other books of the Bible were allegedly composed.  Vincent Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition, 168.  Most of the radical form critics place the Synoptics and John well outside the eyewitness period, dating them from late in the first century.

[18] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction. Revised Edition (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 1990), 210.

[19] Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 231.

[20] For further information, see Birger Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript (Lund: C. W. K. Gleerup); The Origins of the Gospel Traditions (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977); Harald Riesenfeld, The Gospel Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970).

[21] Gundry argues, “The Apostle Matthew was a note-taker during the earthly ministry of Jesus and . . . his notes provided the basis for the bulk of the apostolic gospel tradition.  The use of notebooks which were carried on one’s person was very common in the Graeco-Roman world.  In ancient schools outline notes (gravmmata uJpomnhmatikav) were often taken by pupils as the teacher lectured. . . . Shorthand was used possibly as early as the fourth century B. C. and certainly by Jesus time . . . . Rabbinic tradi­tion was transmitted by the employment of catchwords and phrases which were written down in shorthand notes.  Thus, from both the Hel­lenistic side and the Judaistic side it is wholly plausible to suppose that one from the apostolic band was a note-taker—especially since the rela­tionship of Jesus to his disciples was that of a teacher, or rabbi, to his pupils.

As an ex-publican, whose employment and post near Capernaum on the Great West Road would have required and given a good command of Greek and instilled the habit of jotting down information, and perhaps as a Levite, whose background would have given him acquaintance with the OT in its Semitic as well as Greek forms, Mt the Apostle was admirably fitted for such a function among the unlettered disci­ples.”  See Robert H. Gundry, The Use of the Old Testament in St. Matthew’s School: With Special Reference to the Messianic Hope  (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1967), 182-183.  Goodspeed revived this hypothesis, but it has largely been ignored.  Unfortunately, both Gundry and Goodspeed also held that Mark, instead of Matthew, was the first gospel written.  See Edgar J. Goodspeed, Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist (Philadelphia: John C. Winston, 1959), 115, 159-160.

[22] George B. Caird, “The Study of the Gospels: II. Form Criticism,” Expository Times  LXXXVII (February 1976): 139.

[23] Bultmann, Form Criticism, Two Essays on New Testament Research, 15, 21.

[24] Richard H. Lightfoot, History and Interpretation in the Gospels (New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1934), 225.

[25] Lightfoot, History and Interpretation in the Gospels, 225.

[26] D. E. Nineham, “Eyewitness Testimony and the Gospel Tradition—I,” Journal of Theological Studies 9 (April 1958): 13.

[27] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 293.

[28] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 295.

[29] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 289.

[30] Ernst Käsemann, “The Problem of the Historical Jesus,” in Essays on New Testament Themes. Translated by W. J. Montague (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 15.

[31] Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 222.

[32] John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New  Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), 358.  See also, John A. T. Robinson, Can We Trust the New Testament? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977); “The New Testament Dating Game,” Time (March 21, 1977), 95.

[33] See Rudolf Bultmann, “The Study of the Synoptic Gospels,” in Form Criticism, Two Essays on New Testament Research. Translated by Frederick C. Grant (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1934), 32.

[34] Rudolf Bultmann, “The New Approach to the Synoptic Problem,” Journal of Religion (July 1926): 345.

[35] William D. Davies, Invitation to the New Testament, A Guide to Its Main Witnesses (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966), 98.

[36] For further information, consult Martin J. Buss, “The Idea of Sitz-im Leben—History and Critique, Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 90 (1978): 157-170; See “Sitz-im-Leben” in Richard N. Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism (Atlanta: John Knox, 1981), 178-179.  Soulen notes that while Sitz-im-Leben is a technical term in form criticism to refer to a sociological setting within the life of Israel or the Church, in NT redaction criticism the term is modified to refer “to a literary setting, viz., ‘the setting with in the Gospel’ . . .  which the various traditions (parables, miracle stories, sayings, etc.) have been given by the writers.”

[37]See Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 9; Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 1-7;  E. Basil Redlich, Form Criticism, Its Value and Limitations (London: Duckworth1939), 17-19; Robert H. Lightfoot, History and Interpretation in the Gospels (New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1934), 7-15; Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition, 5-9.

[38] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 70.

[39] For example, see Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 48-49, 281-282.

[40] Bultmann’s strong belief in the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule (History-of-Religions School) led him to assert that a syncretistic tendency toward assimilation of mystery religion concepts led to church to Hellenize the story of Jesus: “For if the kuvrio” was essentially a cultic deity for the Hellenistic church as well, then, in order to retain the peculiar character of Christian faith—the union of the cultic deity with the historical person of Jesus—a tradition about the story of Jesus was necessary; and the analogy of Hellenistic saviors about whom stories were related could not but help to further the demand for and consequently the taking over the tradition.” Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 369 (see also 368-374).

[41] Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, “Ueber die Zeugnisse des Papias von unsern beiden ersten Evangelien,” Theologische Studien und Kritiken (1832), 735-768.  For an excellent overview of Schleiermacher’s contribution to synoptic studies, See William R. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem (Macon, GA.: Mercer, 1976), 15.

[42] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 59.

[43] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 350.

[44] See “Author’s Preface,” in Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, n.p.

[45] See “Author’s Preface,” in Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, n.p.

[46] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 2-3.

[47] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 6.

[48]S. v. “Form Criticism” by C. Blomberg, in Dictionary of the Gospels and Jesus. Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 1992), 243.

[49] For more detailed information on the presuppositional and philosophical background to historical criticism, see Chapter 2: “The Philosophical and Theological Bent of Historical Criticism.”

[50] McKnight relates, “The work of Reimarus must be considered a ‘prologue’ rather than a beginning of the critical study of the earthly Jesus, for the ideas of Reimarus did not directly influence the works which followed.  Yet the forces at work in the life of Reimarus were at work in the life and thought of others in the eighteenth century who pioneered in the historical study of Jesus and who did influence the later developments in the study.” Edgar V. McKnight, What is Form Criticism? (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969), 3-4.

[51] A recent English translation is Ralph S. Fraser, Reimarus: Fragments. Edited by Charles H. Talbert (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970).

[52] For the English text of the sixth and seventh articles respectively, see Fraser, Reimarus: Fragments, 61-269 (“Concerning the Resurrection” fragment is sandwiched by Fraser into pp. 153-200 [û10-32] in accordance with Lessing’s directions–see pp. 24, 153 fn. 55 for specifics).

[53] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. Translated by W. Montgomery.  Introduction by James M. Robinson (New York: Macmillan, 1968), 24.

[54] Norman Perrin, What is Redaction Criticism? (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969), 4.

[55]Strauss himself espoused the philosophy of Hegel. For further information on Hegel’s influence upon Strauss and others, consult such works as Cornelio Fabro, God in Exile.  Translated and Edited by Arthur Gibson (Westminster, Md.: Newman, 1968); Bruno Bauer, The Trumpet of the Last Judgement Against Hegel the Atheist and Antichrist. Translated by Lawrence Stepelevich (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1989).

[56]See David Friedrich Strauss, “Hermann Samuel Reimarus and His Apology,” in Reimarus: Fragments, 44.

[57] See David Friedrich Strauss, A New Life of Jesus. Authorized Translation. Second Edition (Williams and Norgate, 1879), 199.

[58]See Strauss, “Hermann Samuel Reimarus and His Apology, in Reimarus: Fragments, 44-57.

[59] For further information, see David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined.  Edited by Peter C. Hodgson. Translated by George Eliot (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972), 52-91 (û8-16).

[60]See Stephen Neill and Tom Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986. Second Edition (Oxford: Oxford University, 1988), 14.

[61] For an example of Bultmann’s mythological approach to the Gospels, see Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” in Kerygma and Myth. Edited by Hans Werner Bartsch. Translated by Reginald H. Fuller (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 1-44; “The Case for Demythologizing,” in Kerygma and Myth II.  Edited by Hans-Werner Bartsch. Translated by Reginald H. Fuller (London: SPCK, 1962), 181-194; Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958).

[62] For further information, consult Henry M. Morris, The Long War Against God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 151-260; The Troubled Waters of Evolution (San Diego, CA.: Creation Life, 1982), 51-76.

[63] John C. Hutchison, “Darwin’s Evolutionary Theory and 19th-Century Natural Theology,” Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (July-September 1995), 334.

[64] This pervasive influence of evolution in the United Kingdom is demonstrated by an interesting side note.  In the United Kingdom, the Church’s celebration of Darwin is seen in his burial place at Westminster Abbey.  Today, many of the world’s leading evolutionists live in Britain.  See “Astounding Response to Creation in Darwin’s Homeland,” in Acts and Facts, vol. 22, August 1993), 1.  However, the great churchman and creationist, John Knox, who led the great Protestant Reformation in Scotland in the sixteenth century, has a possible burial cite (unmarked) in a automobile parking lot.  Ham notes, “A man who popularized an idea that attacks the foundations of the Church, is honored by a church and buried in a prominent place for all to see.  Yet, a man who stood for the authority of the Word of God is all but forgotten, and his grave is housed in a parking lot.”  See Ken Ham, “A Tale of Two Graves,” in Creation Ex Nihilo 16 (June-August, 1994), 16-18.

[65] For an excellent critique of evolution, consult Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial. Second Edition (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 1993).

[66]See the interesting discussion of Gleason L. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction.  Revised and Expanded (Chicago: Moody, 1994), 149-50.

[67]Thoroughgoing refutations of the Wellhausen Hypothesis appeared soon after the rise in its popularity, but they were largely ignored, e.g. William Henry Green, Unity of the Book of Genesis (New York: Scribner, 1895) and by the same author Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch (New York: Scribner, 1896).  Green’s works still constitute an effective refutation of the Documentary Hypothesis.

[68]For a thorough discussion of the specifics of this hypothesis, see the excellent analysis of Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 89-171.

[69] For further information, see Pierre Benoit, “Reflections on ‘Formgeschichtliche Methode,'” in Jesus and the Gospel. Translated by Benet Weatherhead (New York: Herder and Herder), 1:11-45.

[70]For further information on the details of the four source hypothesis, consult Burnett H. Streeter, The Four Gospels, A Study of Origins (London: Macmillan, 1953), 223-272.

[71] See Farmer, The Synoptic Problem, 178-190.

[72]See Thomas H. Huxley, Science and Christian Tradition (New York: D. Appleton, 1899), 273.

[73]See Burnett H. Streeter, “The Literary Evolution of the Gospels,” in Oxford Studies in the Synoptic Problem.  Edited by W. Sanday (Oxford: At the Clarendon, 1911), 210-227.  Streeter also used the term “evolution” in reference to the “evolution of the Gospel canon” and “evolution of Pauline canon.” See Streeter, The Four Gospels, 609 (cf. 526 and 499 note 1).

[74]Sanday, Oxford Studies, xvi.

[75]Farmer, Synoptic Problem, 181.

[76]The article was originally published in 1879.  For the full text, see Edwin A. Abbott, “Gospels” in Encyclopedia Britannica. R. S. Peale Reprint (Chicago: R. S. Peale, 1892), vol. X, 801-802.

[77]See Farmer’s excellent discussion, The Synoptic Problem, 25-26, 178-79.

[78] Farmer, The Synoptic Problem, 70.

[79] See the excellent discussion of Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction. Revised Edition (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 1990), 210.

[80] Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 210.

[81] See Hermann Gunkel, The Stories of Genesis.  Translated by John J. Scullion.  Edited by William R. Scott (Berkeley, CA.: BIBAL, 1994).  This work was also published as The Legends of Genesis: The Biblical Saga and History.  Translated by W. H. Carruth (New York: Schocken, 1964).

[82] Gunkel, The Legends of Genesis, 93-119.

[83] Gunkel, The Legends of Genesis, 29-31.

[84] Gunkel, The Legends of Genesis, 18-24.

[85] Gunkel, The Legends of Genesis, 11-12, 71-72, 78.

[86] Werner Georg Kümmel, The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972), 330.

[87] For further information, consult Kümmel, The New Testament, 281-284; Perrin, What is Redaction Criticism?, 13-14.

[88] Julius Wellhausen, Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1905), 43-57. See also Robert H. Lightfoot, History and Interpretation of the Gospels (New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1934), 23; Perrin, What is Redaction Criticism?, 14.

[89] Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 211.

[90]For a refutation of Wrede’s assertions, consult James D. G. Dunn, “The Messianic Secret in Mark,” in The Messianic Secret. Edited by Christopher Tuckett (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), 116-131.

[91] Perrin, What is Redaction Criticism?, 7.

[92] For an example of an older work that criticized Wrede, see A. E. J. Rawlinson, St. Mark (London: Methuen, 1947), 258-262. For a more recent critique, see C. M. Tuckett, Editor, The Messianic Secret (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983).

[93] Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 211.

[94] Bultmann, Form Criticism, Two Essays on New Testament Research, 23.

[95] Benoit, “Reflections on ‘Formgeschichtliche Methode,'” 1:41.

[96] The quote is translated. The German text reads: “Aber im ganzen gibt es kein Leben Jesu im Sinne einer sich entwickelnden Lebensgeschichte, keinen chronologischen Aufriß der Geschichte Jesu, sondern nur Einzelgeschichten, Perikopen, die in ein Rahmenwerk gestellt sind.”  Karl L. Schmidt, Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesu (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1969), 317.  The work was originally published in 1919 (Berlin: Trowitzsch & Sohn) and has never been translated into English.

[97]McKnight, What is Form Criticism?, 15.

[98] Some think that Dibelius actually took over the expression from a subtitle of another book, Eduard Norden’s Agnostos Theos: Untersuchungen zur Formgeschichte religiöser Rede {“The Unknown God: Inquiries into the History of the Forms of Religious Utterance”— 1913).  Neill257

[99] The work has recently been reissued.  Rudolf Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition. Translated by John Marsh. Revised Edition (Basil Blackwell, 1963; Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson, n.d.).

[100] Johnson notes, “In 1908, Wilhelm Heitmüller joined the Marburg faculty, and through him Bultman became immersed in the work of the history-of-religions school.  Heitmüller, along with the writings of Richard Reitzenstein and Wilhelm Bousset, taught Bultmann to understand the literature of the New Testament by comparing early Christianity with other religious movements of the same era: e.g., Jewish apocalyptic or Hellenistic Gnosticism.  Bultmann himself made significant contributions to the work of this group, and not surprisingly, he was invited to succeed Heitmüller at Marburg University in 1921.”  See Roger A. Johnson, Editor, Rudolf Bultmann, Interpreting Faith for the Modern Era (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 9-10.

[101] For further information, see Bultmann, “Autobiographical Reflections,” in Existence and Faith, 284.

[102] Robert Morgan, “Rudolf Bultmann,” in The Modern Theologians, vol. 1 in An Introduction to Christian Theology in the Twentieth Century. Edited by David F. Ford (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 109.

[103] Martin Heidegger taught at Marburg University with Bultmann from 1922-1928.  For further information on Heidegger’s influence, see Bultmann’s personally written history, “Autobiographical Reflections,” in Existence and Faith, 283-288.

[104] For more information on such philosophical presuppositions, see the chapter on “The Philosophical and Theological Bent of Historical Criticism.”

[105] Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 212.

[106] S.v. “Myth” by M. J. A. Horsnell, ISBE, 3:455-463 (especially note pp. 461-463).

[107] For an overview of Butlmann’s view of mythology and the need to demythologize the New Testament, see Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology” and “Demythologizing in Outline,” in Kerygma and Myth I, 1-44; “The Message of Jesus and the Problem of Mythology” and “The Christian Message and the Modern World-View,” in Jesus Christ and Mythology, 11-21, 35-59.

[108] Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth I, 10 footnote 2.

[109] Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth I, 1-2.

[110] Bultmann, Kerygma and Myth I, 4

[111] Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 212.

[112] For further information, see Rudolf Bultmann, “The Study of the Synoptic Gospels,” in Form Criticism, Two Essays on New Testament Research.” Translated by Frederick C. Grant (New York: Harper, 1962), 11-76.

[113] Bultmann writes, “The historical method includes the presupposition that history is a unity in the sense of a closed-continuum of effects in which individual events are connected by the succession of cause and effect . . . .

This closeness means that the continuum of historical events cannot be rent by the interference of the supernatural, transcendent powers and that therefore there is no ‘miracle’ in this sense of the word.” Bultmann, “Is Exegesis Possible Without Presuppositions?, in Existence and Faith, 291-292.

[114] Bultmann goes on, “we can, strictly speaking, know nothing of the personality of Jesus.  I am personally of the opinion that Jesus did not believe himself to be the Messiah.”  See Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus and the Word. Translated by Louise Pettibone Smith and Erminie Huntress Lantero (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958), 8-9.

[115] See Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 70.  See Perrin, What is Redaction Criticism?, 15 foonote 19.

[116] See Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 1-7; Perrin, What is Redaction Criticism?, 15.

[117] Perrin notes, “The difference in emphasis between Bultmann and Dibelius, however, is not only that the former ascribes a greater element of free creativity to the early church in her work on the tradition, but also that he is much more interested than is Dibelius in the actual details of that work.  He is concerned with writing a history of the synoptic tradition, and, in the course of doing this, he is forced to attempt to describe and to understand  the details of the processes at work in the creation and transmission of that tradition in a way that Dibelius, who is more concerned with a description of the original forms and their functions in the community’s life, is not.” Perrin, What is Redaction Criticism?, 18-19.

[118] Vincent Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition. Second Edition (London: Macmillan, 1935), 14.

[119] Perrin relates that the difference in emphasis “should certainly not be overstressed; but it is nonetheless there and it is the reason why redaction criticism has developed more directly from the work of Bultmann than from that of Dibelius.” Perrin, What is Redaction Criticism?, 18-19.

[120] Schmidt  did groundwork in Mark, while Dibelius subjected varying parts of the gospel tradition to form-critical analysis.  Yet, Bultmann analyzed the entire synoptic tradition.  McKnight notes, “Bultmann submitted the entire Synoptic tradition to a searching analysis; and, although Dibelius was the first of the two writers, Bultmann’s name and method of analysis have been of analysis have been more closely associated with form criticism than has the name of Dibelius.” McKnight, What is Form Criticism?, 16.

[121] Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition, 2.

[122] McKnight also views Gunkel’s ground-breaking work in form criticism as making New Testament form criticism possible, McKnight, What is Form Criticism?, 3, 10.

[123] Benoit, Jesus and the Gospel, 1:39.

[124] As Guthrie remarks, “the gospels themselves bear testimony to many connected sequences (e.g. Mk. 1:21-39; 2:1-3:6).  If the passion narrative existed in continuous form, as is generally conceded, why not

[125] Apart from the work of Dibelius and Bultmann, for further summary details regarding classification see McKnight, What is Form Criticism?, 20-33; Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition, 44-167; Redlich, Form Criticism, Its Value and Limitation, 50-55; Stephen H. Travis, “Form Criticism,” in New Testament Interpretation, 155-157; Bock, “Form Criticism,” in New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, 181-188; Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 213-223.

[126] Blomberg, “Form Criticism,” in Dictionary of the Gospels and Jesus, 243.

[127] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 244.

[128] Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 244-274.  Bultmann notes that historical stories should be classified with legends since they “are so much dominated by the legends that they can only be treated along with them” (p. 245).  His separate treatment of miracle stories occurs on pages 209-244.

[129] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 244-245, footnote 1.

[130] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 266.

[131] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 271.

[132] Dibelius reveals his anti-supernatural bias when he writes, “A thoroughgoing mythological presentation of the life of Jesus, it is true, would have had to extend to the events which the heavenly origin of the Master came to decisive expression.  We should, therefore, have had to expect a mythological formulation of His descent upon the earth, and also of His death and of His liberation from death by resurrection and return to heaven . . . . It is, however, significant for our tradition that this thoroughgoing mythical formulation has not been carried out.  This shows how firmly at bottom this tradition kept is feet upon the ground.”  Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 269.

[133] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 267-268.

[134] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 267-273.

[135] Travis, “Form Criticism,” in New Testament Interpretation, 158.

[136] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 228.

[137] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 228.

[138] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 213.

[139] Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 217.

[140] Bultmann argues, “The process of transferring some available miracle story to a hero (or healer or even a god) is frequently to be found in the history of literature and religion.” For a complete discussion  Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 209-244 (quote from p. 228).

[141] Bultmann, “The Study of the Synoptic Gospels,” in Form Criticism, 38.

[142] Frederic G. Kenyon, The Bible and Modern Scholarship (London: John Murray, 1948), 52.

[143] Dibelius argues, “For the further development of the evangelical tradition the story-teller and the teacher appear to have been of special significance.” Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 70.

[144] Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 214.

[145] Redlich, Form Criticism, Its Value and Limitation, 55.

[146] Lightfoot, History and Interpretation in the Gospels, 43.

[147] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 51-52, 55, 71.

[148]Travis, “Form Criticism,” in New Testament Interpretation, 158.

[149] S.v. “Criticism” by Bruce, ISBE, 1:823.

[150] For a complete discussion, see Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 69-179.

[151] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 101.

[152] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 101.

[153]Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 105.

[154] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 105.

[155] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 154-155.

[156] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 110, 112-125.

[157] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 127-128.

[158] Rudolf Bultmann, “Allgemeine Wahrheit und christliche Verkündigung,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 54 (1957): 244-254.  See also  J. M. Robinson’s comments regarding Bultmann’s moderation of his thinking, A New Quest of the Historical Jesus (London: SCM, 1959), 20 footnote 1.

[159] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 4.

[160] Travis, “Form Criticism,” in New Testament Interpretation, 159.

[161] An example of this would be the classic work of Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.) that was originally published in the nineteenth century (see pp. 161-600).

[162] For example, acute subjectivity is seen in the fact that Berger supplies four new and different form-critical categories (Sammelgattungen or “Collected Forms,” Symbuleutische Gattungen or “Behavior Forms,” Epideiktische Gattungen or “Demonstration Texts,” and Dikanische Gattungen or “Decision Texts”)  and also assumes the Two Document Hypothesis.  For further information, see Klaus Berger, Formgeschichte des Neuen Testaments (Heidelberg: Quelle & Meyer, 1984), 25-366.

[163] Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 3-4.

[164] Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 5.

[165] Catchpole prefers to translate the term traditionsgeschichte as “tradition history” instead of “tradition criticism” since the German word Geschichte better designates “meaningful process” or “changeful movement” rather than its usually translated meaning of “history”: “the term ‘tradition criticism’ would be better abandoned and replaced by the term ‘tradition history’, interpreted in the sense of an on-going process of development in the form and/or meaning of concepts or words or sayings or blacks of material.” Catchpole, “Tradition History,” in New Testament Interpretation, 165.

[166] Guthrie, Catchpole and Osborne place tradition criticism (or, history) more closely in association with redaction criticism, while Blomberg includes the discussion of tradition criticism (“criteria of authenticity”) under form criticism.  Catchpole describes redaction criticism as a special case of tradition criticism.  Stein closely associates form and tradition criticism but notes that the terms “technically . . . are not synonymous but in practice they essentially are.” See Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 243-247; David Catchpole, “Tradition History,” in New Testament Interpretation, 165-180; Grant R. Osborne, “The Method of Redaction Criticism,” in New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, 204-207; Blomberg, “Form Criticism,” in The Dictionary of the Gospels and Jesus, 248-249; Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” in Gospel Perspectives.  Edited by R. T. France and David Wenham (Sheffield: JSOT, 1980), 226, 254.  Historically, since Bultmann and his followers provided the impetus for tradition criticism in seeking to determine allegedly authentic from inauthentic sayings of Jesus, the present article associates tradition principles here with form criticism.

[167] For further information on the nature of tradition criticism, consult R. S. Barbour, Traditio-Historical Criticism of the Gospels (London: SPCK, 1972).

[168] William G. Doty, “The Discipline and Literature of New Testament Form Criticism,” Anglican Theological Review (October 1969), 286.

[169] For example, see Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 205; Ernst Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964), 34-37; Norman Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), 39-43.

[170] Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching’s of Jesus, 39.  Perrin also assumes that the early church placed words into the mouth of Jesus, so that “we must look for indications that the saying does not come from the Church, but from the historical Jesus.”

[171] Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes, 34.  While the “New Quest” for the historical Jesus is touted as an attempt to get away from the complete skepticism reflected in the Old Quest of Bultmann and others, it has faired little better in distancing itself from the radical skepticism anchored in the Enlightenment.  For a survey of the New Quest, consult James M. Robinson, The New Quest of the Historical Jesus (London: SCM, 1959), 9-25.

[172] Bultmann, Form Criticism, Two Essays on New Testament Research, 29.

[173] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 67; Form Criticism, Two Essays on New Testament Research Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 287-295.

[174] For example, in Bultmann’s discussion of the feeding of the five thousand, he finds the Finnish fairy tale of a young girl feeding an army on three barley corns as a parallel to the feeding of the five thousand.  See Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 236.  Dibelius also cited analogies from rabbinical sources, and Greek and patristic literature.  See Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 133-177.

[175] Bultmann argues, “For the most part the history of the tradition is obscure, thought there is one small part which we can observe in our sources, how Marcan material is treated as it is adapted by Matthew and Luke.”  He goes on to note, “If we are able to detect any such laws, we may assume that they were operative on the traditional material even before it was given its form in Mark and Q, and in this way we can infer back to an earlier stage of the tradition than appears in our sources.”  Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 6.

[176] For an salient example of tenuous nature of the Marcan hypothesis, see Hans-Herbert Stoldt, History and Criticism of the Marcan Hypothesis (Macon, GA.: Mercer, 1980).

[177] Bultmann, Form Criticism, Two Essays on New Testament Research, 25.

[178] Bultmann, Form Criticism, Two Essays on New Testament Research, 32.

[179] Bultmann, Form Criticism, Two Essays on New Testament Research, 33, 35.

[180] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 287.

[181] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 288, 289-90.

[182] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 287, 291-292.

[183] Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 287, 292-293.

[184] For further information, see Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 48, 55;  Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, 34-35; Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark, 65.

[185] Jeremias was himself a major opponent of the History-of-Religions School in Germany.  Yet, he too argued for the antiquity or genuineness of the saying based on the presence of Semitisms.  See Joachim Jeremias, ” The Parables of Jesus. Second Revised Edition (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972),  15.  Matthew Black also supports the idea that Semitisms indicates antiquity.  See Matthew Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts.  Third Edition (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1967), 271; “The Problem of the Aramaic Element in the Gospels, Expository Times LIX(1947-48), 171-176.

[186] Bultmann, Form Criticism, Two Essays on New Testament Research, 18.

[187] For additional examples, consult Franz E. Meyer, “Einige Bermerkungen zur Bedeutung des Terminus ‘Sanhedrion’ in den Schriften des Neuen Testaments, New Testament Studies 14 (1967-68): 545-551.

[188] Saul Lieberman, Greek In Jewish Palestine.  Second Edition (New York: Philipp Feldheim, 1965), 38-40.

[189] For a more detailed treatment of these points, consult Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, “The Languages Spoken by Jesus,” in New Dimensions in New Testament Study. Edited by Richard N. Longenecker and Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 127-143.

[190] Robert H. Gundry, “The Language Milieu of First-Century Palestine,” Journal of Biblical Literature 83 (1964): 408.

[191] Argyle notes: “Any Jewish tradesman who wished his business to prosper would be eager to make his range of customers as large as possible and so would welcome Greek-speaking Gentile customers as well as Jews.  This would apply especially in Galilee of the Gentiles where the majority of the population was Gentile and Greek-speaking . . . . If Joseph and Jesus wanted their carpentry business to prosper, they would be happy to welcome Gentile as well as Jewish customers.  They would therefore need to speak Greek as well as Aramaic if they were to converse with all their customers.  Similarly Simon and Andrew, James and John would need to know Greek if they were to sell their fish in Gentile Markets.  So would Levi, the inland revenue officer, the civil servant, engaged in government employ.”  A. W. Argyle, “Greek among the Jews of Palestine in New Testament Times,” New Testament Studies 20 (1973), 88, 89.

[192] While additional Latin words appear in the other gospels (dhnavrion, kh’nso”, kodravnth”, kravbatto”, legiwvn), the words listed here are exclusive to Mark. (vincent, Mark, 45.)

[193] Bultmann, Form Criticism, Two Essays on New Testament Research, 26

[194] Redlich, Form Criticism, 75.

[195] E. P. Sanders, The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition (Cambridge: At the University, 1969), 272.  However, even Sanders is the product of the spirit of the time for supports the Four-Document Hypothesis typical of British scholarship.

[196] Caird, “The Study of the Gospels: II. Form Criticism,” 140.

[197] The “Jesus Seminar” includes the Gospel of Thomas in this count as a quasi-canonical Gospel as the number in the title of their work reflects.   See Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels, What Did Jesus Really Say? (New York: Macmillan, 1993).  The Seminar consists of 74 scholars, many of whom are listed in the back of the work in a section entitled, “Roster of the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar” (pp. 533-537).  The exact selection process of the members of this “Seminar” is unknown.

[198] Funk attempts to distance himself from Bultmann.  Funk prefers to echo the sentiments of the post-Bultmannian “New Quest for the historical Jesus” (inaugurated by Käsemann in 1953) that something can be known of the historical Jesus.  However, the results of Funk’s and the Seminar are essentially the same as that of Bultmann, i.e. little, if anything, is known of the “historical Jesus.”  See Charlotte Allen, “Away with the Manger,” Lingua Franca 5 (Jan./Feb. 1995): 26.

[199]  See The Five Gospels, 3, 5.  For a succinct, critical analysis of the “Jesus Seminar,” see D. A. Carson, “Five Gospels, No Christ,” Christianity Today, April 25, 1994, 30-33.

[200] The Five Gospels, 3-5.

[201] Carson, “Five Gospels, No Christ,” 32.

[202] The Five Gospels, 5.

[203] The Five Gospels, 2.

[204] The Five Gospels, 4-5.

[205] R. S. Barbour, Traditio-Historical Criticism of the Gospels (London: SPCK, 1972), 3.

[206] F. C. Burkitt was one of the earliest advocates of this principle.  See F. C. Burkitt, The Gospel History and Its Transmission (Edinburg: T & T Clark, 1911), 147-148.

[207] Harvey K. McArthur, “Basic Issues, A Survey of Recent Gospel Research,” Interpretation 18 (1964): 48.  Streeter labeled the Four-Source hypothesis “The Fundamental Solution.” See B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels (London: Macmillan, 1953), 151-200.

[208] McArthur relates, “Bultmannians do not display any great interest in this multiple-attestation criterion, apparently preferring more esoteric guides.  Having indicated some scepticism of British tendencies in Gospel research I should comment that, in my judgment, their regular and faithful use of this criterion is to be commended.”  McArthur, “Basic Issues,” 48.

[209] C. H. Dodd, History and the Gospel (London: Nisbet, 1938), 91-103.

[210]Gustav Dalman, Jesus-Jeshua, Studies in the Gospels (New York: KTAV, 1971[first published in 1929]), 1-30; C. F. Burney, The Poetry of Our Lord (Clarendon, 1925), 5-11; C. C. Torrey, Our Translated Gospels (New York and London: Harper, 1936), ix-lx; Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts, 1-49; Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus. Second Revised Edition (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972), 25-27.

[211] Reginald H. Fuller, The New Testament in Current Study (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962), 33.

[212] Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971),  8; Henry E. W. Turner, Historicity and the Gospel (London: A. R. Mowbray, 1963), 77-78.

[213] Argyle, “Greek Among Palestinian Jews in New Testament Times,” 89.   See also, Argyle, “‘Hypocrites’ and the Aramaic Theory, Expository Times LXXV(1963-64), 113-114 where he argues that “It is difficult to see how there can have been an Aramaic equivalent for this; for theatre was forbidden among the Jews” (p. 113).

[214] Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 11-12.

[215] Also, see Matt. 7:2 // Luke 6:37-38 // Mark 4:24 cf. Hesiod Works and Days, 349-350; Publilius Syrus, Sentences [A] 2.  Taken from carlston 99.

[216] R. T. France, “The Authenticity of the Sayings of Jesus,” in History, Criticism and Faith.  Edited by Colin Brown (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1976), 108-109.

[217] For example, Bultmann argues, “We can only count on possessing a genuine similitude of Jesus where, on the one hand, expression is given to the contrast between Jewish morality and piety and the distinctive eschatological temper which characterized the preaching of Jesus; and where on the other hand we find no specifically Christian features.” See Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 205 (also 101, 104-105).  The radical Schmiedel used this type of criterion even before Bultmann, see Paul W. Schmiedel, “Gospels,” in Encyclopaedia Biblica.  Edited by T. K. Cheyne and J. Sutherland Black (New York: Macmillan,1903), col. 1881-1883.

[218] Käsemann continues, “especially when Jewish Christianity has mitigated or modified the received tradition, as having found it too bold for its task.”  Käsemann, Essays on New Testament Themes, 37.

[219] Reginald H. Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965), 18.

[220] Norman Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 43.

[221] The word “Abba” enforces this point.  The word is Aramaic in form but no exact parallel is found in Judaism.  It, however, was used by the early church (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).  By strict application of Dissimilarity, it should be eliminated, but tradition critics seem to accept it almost universally.  See Hooker, “On Using the Wrong Tool,” Theology 75 (1972): 577.  Perrin demonstrates his inconsistency when he comments on Mark 14:36 and Luke 11:2, “since . . . abba is . . . found in Rom. 8:15 and Gal. 4:6, it could be argued that the Jesus tradition is not here dissimilar to that of the early Church.  But these may not be regarded as representing early Christian tradition as such.  They are the only examples of it, and the Lord’s Prayer is universally known with its Matthaean form of address . . . The most reasonable explanation is that it is characteristic of Jesus rather than the early Church . . . . All in all, therefore, we may regard it as established, on the basis of the criterion of dissimilarity, that Jesus addressed God as abba.”  Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus, 41.

[222] Nils A. Dahl, “The Problem of the Historical Jesus,” in Kerygma and History.  Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Roy A. Harrisville (New York and Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), 156.  See Barbour p. 50 footnote 11.

[223] Bultmann established the “feeling of eschatological power” as authentic through the Criterion of Dissimilarity.  Bultmann subjectively deems authentic “such sayings as arise from the exaltation of an eschatological mood,” “sayings which are the product of an energetic summons to repentance,” or “sayings which demand a new disposition of mind.”  He accepts them because they “contain something characteristic, new, reaching out beyond popular wisdom and piety and yet are in no sense scribal or rabbinic nor yet Jewish apocalyptic.”  Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition, 162; 105 cf. also p. 205

[224] Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus, 43.

[225] James R. Edwards, “Who Do Scholars Say That I am?, Christianity Today, March 4, 1996, 15-20.

[226] See Walter W. Wessell, “Voting Out the Fourth Beatitude, The Jesus Seminar decides what Jesus did and did not say,” Christianity Today, November 12, 1986, 34.  See also, for example, Mark A. Kellner “Away with the Manger, The new Jesus seminar discounts the Virgin Birth,” Christianity Today, November 14, 1994, 92-93;

[227] Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland, gen. eds.,  Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995); Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest, The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 1995); Gregory A. Boyd, Cynic Sage or Son of God (Wheaton, IL.: Victor, 1995).

[228] Stanley N. Gundry, “A Critique of the Fundamental Assumption of Form Criticism (Part Two),” Bibliotheca Sacra (April, 1966), 149.

[229] Stanley N. Gundry, “A Critique of the Fundamental Assumptions of Form Criticism (Part One),” Bibliotheca Sacra (January 1966), 32.

[230] See Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology?, 83-123.

[231] Guthrie, 233.

[232] See the back cover endorsements from the work edited by David A. Black & David S. Dockery, New Testament Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), n.p.

[233] Two recent criticism have been Mark A. Noll, Between Faith and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986) and George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987).  Noll writes, “a combination of factors during the first third of the twentieth century—the loss of institutional bases within the older denominations, a shrinking corps of active Bible scholars, the spread of dispensationalism, the ascendency of activitism, the distrust of the university, the disruption of the fundamentalist controversies—led to an eclipse of evangelical biblical scholarship” (pp. 60-61).

[234] Linnemann remarks that this ostracization also applies to limited opportunities to publish.  See Eta Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible, Methodology or Ideology?, 89.

[235] W. D. Davies, Invitation to the New Testament (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966), 97.

[236] McKnight, What is Form Criticism?, 2.

[237] George Eldon Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 148, 168-69 cf. McKight, What is Form Criticism?, 2.

[238] Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism, 149

[239] Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism, 141.

[240] Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism, 141-142.

[241] Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism, 147-48.

[242] Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism, 148-149.

[243] This article has already cited some strategic works in this regard.  For further investigation, consult Heinz Schürmann, “Die vorösterlichen Anfänge der Logientradition,” in Der historische Jesus und der kerygmatische Christus: Beiträge zum Christusverständnis in Forschung und Berkündigung.  Herausgegeben von Helmut Ristow und Karl Matthiae (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1962), 342-370.

[244] Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism, 153.

[245] Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism, 154.

[246] Norman L. Geisler, Biblical Errancy, An Analysis of Its Philosophical Roots (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 21.

[247]Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism, 159.

[248] Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism, 161.

[249] Robert H. Stein, The Synoptic Problem (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 129-138, 142-143.  Stein does, however, qualify the fact that “Q” may be a layer of tradition rather than a single document.

[250] For example, see Bo Reicke, The Roots of the Synoptic Gospels (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986). Eta Linnemann, Is There a Synoptic Problem? Translated by Robert W. Yarbrough (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992); John Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsty, 1992).

[251] Robert H. Stein, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teaching (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978), 156 footnote 62.

[252] Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 210.

[253] He further qualifies this by saying not all pericopes may have circulated as independent units (e.g., the passion narrative, Mark 1:21-39, 2:1-3:6; 4:1-34; 4:35-5:43; 7:1-23; 8:1-26; 12:13-37).  Stein, The Synoptic Problem, 166-167.

[254] As Guthrie notes, evidence from Papias “cannot so easily be ignored.”  Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 83.

[255] Stein, The Synoptic Problem, 142.

[256] Stein, The Synoptic Problem, 143.

[257] Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” in Gospel Perspectives, vol. 1. Edited by R. T. France and David Wenham (Sheffield: JSOT, 1980), 229.

[258] Robert H. Stein, The Synoptic Problem, 151-152.  See also Robert H. Stein, Luke, vol. 24 in the New American Commentary. David S. Dockery, gen. ed. (Nashville, TN.: Broadman, 1992), 420.

[259] Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” 226.

[260] Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” 233.

[261] Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” 238-239.

[262] Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” 232.

[263] Stein, The Synoptic Problem, 152.

[264] Stein, Luke, 198; Stein, The Synoptic Problem, 219-220.

[265] Stein, The Synoptic Problem, 171-172.

[266] Stein, The Synoptic Problem, 171-172.

[267] Robert A. Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, A Foundation for Understanding (Waco, TX.: Word, 1982), 23.

[268]  Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 23.

[269] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 26.

[270] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 33-34.

[271] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 33-36.

[272] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 33.

[273] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 35.

[274] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 35.

[275] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 36.

[276] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 35.

[277] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 35-36.

[278] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 35-36;116-118.

[279] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 117-118.

[280] Wessell decries the Jesus Seminar’s methods, but Guelich does something very similar.  Walter Wessell, “Voting Out the Fourth Beatitude, The Jesus Seminar decides what Jesus did and did not say.”  Christianity Today, November 12, 1986, 34-35.

[281] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 25.

[282] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 26.

[283] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 26.

[284] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 26.

[285] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 135.

[286]Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 138.

[287] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 138.

[288] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 142-143.

[289] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 143.

[290] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 142-143.

[291] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 58-59.

[292] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 58-59.

[293] Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount, 58-59.

[294] Robert H. Mounce, Matthew, vol. 1 in the New International Biblical Commentary.  Edited by W. Ward Gasque (Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson, 1991), 36.

[295] Mounce, Matthew, 36; S.v. “Sermon on the Mount,” by R.H. Mounce, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, 411-416.

[296] For example, Gerhardsson, The Origins of the Gospel Traditions, 15-24, 67-77.

[297] S.v. “Pharisees” by Donald Hagner, in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible.  Edited by Merrill C. Tenney, et. al. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 5:750 cf. Bultmann, Form Criticism, Two Essays on New Testament Research, 35.

[298] Hagner, “Pharisees,” 750.

[299] S.v. “Pharisees,” by R. J. Wyatt in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.  Fully Revised.  Geoffrey W. Bromiley, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 3:823

[300] S.v. “Pharisees,” in the Dictionary of the Gospel and Jesus.  Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 1992), 613.

[301] Darrell L. Bock, “Form Criticism,” in New Testament Criticism and Interpretation. Edited by David A. Black and David S. Dockery (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 192.

[302] Bock relates concerning Berger, “Many strengths are seen here.  There is an absence of traditional historical speculation.  The account is related in terms of form to other similar texts.  There is a willingness to recognize mixed types.  He prioritizes the parts to each other. He recognized the problem with the title miracle story,’ though there may be an overreaction here.  There is much here to work with in terms of exegesis.” See Bock, “Form Criticism,” in New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, 191 cf. Berger, Formgeschichte des Neuen Testaments, 366.

[303] Bock, “Form Criticism, in New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, 187.

[304] Hooker notes: “First, and most obviously, it is a literary tool.  It tells us about the form of the material; it examines the shape of a piece of tradition and classifies it.  This may be interesting to those who like doing that sort of thing, but I do not think it is particularly illuminating to be told that a miracle story is a miracle story, or that a paradigm is a paradigm—or an apophthegm—nor even that such stories take on certain shapes; one can learn that by watching TV commercials.”  Hooker, “On Using the Wrong Tool,” 571.

[305] Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 3-4.

[306] Frederick C. Grant, The Earliest Gospel (New York: Abingdon, 1943), 41.

[307] Bock, “Form Criticism, in New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, 187.

[308]  Hooker, “On Using the Wrong Tool,” 572.

[309] S.v. “Preaching from the Gospels” by S. Greidanus, in the Dictionary of the Gospels and Jesus. Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity, 1992), 625.

[310] S. Greidanus, “Preaching from the Gospels,” 625.

[311] Catchpole, “Tradition History,” in New Testament Interpretation, 168.

[312] Catchpole, “Tradition History,” in New Testament Interpretation, 167-168.

[313] Catchpole, “Tradition History,” in New Testament Interpretation, 168.

[314] Catchpole, “Tradition History,” in New Testament Interpretation, 168.

[315] Catchpole, “Tradition History,” in New Testament Interpretation, 170.

[316] Catchpole, “Tradition History,” in New Testament Interpretation, 178.

[317] Grant R. Osborne, “The Evangelical and  Traditionsgeschichte,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21 (June 1978): 122.

[318] Osborne, “The Evangelical and  Traditionsgeschichte,” 126.

[319] Osborne, “The Evangelical and  Traditionsgeschichte,” 130.

[320] Grant R. Osborne, “Redaction Criticism and the Great Commission: A Case Study Toward A Biblical Understanding of Inerrancy,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 19 (Spring 1976): 80.

[321] Osborne, “Redaction Criticism and the Great Commission, 80, 85.

[322] Grant R. Osborne, “The Evangelical and Redaction Criticism: Critique and Methodology,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 22 (December 1979): 311.

[323] See D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 20-25; D. A. Carson, “Matthew, vol. 8 in Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 16.

[324]  Carson, “Matthew,” Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 241-243; David Wenham, “The ‘Q’ Tradition Behind Matthew X,” New Testament Studies

[325] Of course, a possible reply could be that the term “evolution” merely means development.  However, the use of this term and the adoption of evolutionary principles clearly shows how saturated evangelicals have become to evolutionary concepts.

[326] Robert W. Yarbrough, “Evangelical Theology in Germany,” in Evangelical Quarterly LXV (October 1993): 329, 353 cf. Gerhard Maier, The End of the Historical-Critical Method.  Translated by Edwin W. Leverenz and Rudolf F. Norden (St. Louis: Concordia, 1977): 8-10; 11-92.

[327] Maier, The End of the Historical-Critical Method, 49.