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[John_Lit] Re: Gospels for all Christians

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  • John Painter
    Thanks for the greetings Ramsey. They are reciprocated warmly. In response to Ramsey my question is, did Paul shape either 1 or 2 Corinthians with the
    Message 1 of 30 , Jun 7, 1999
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      Thanks for the greetings Ramsey. They are reciprocated warmly.
      In response to Ramsey my question is, did Paul shape either 1 or 2
      Corinthians with the universal church in mind. The references in 1 and
      2 Corinthians(1.2 and 1.1 respectively) have their problems for
      interpreters but, assuming they indicate a wider audience, we might have
      additions from the time of the collection of the Pauline corpus. If
      they come from Paul's hand and carry that meaning, as Ramsey says, 1
      Corinthians is one of the most occasional books in the NT. Perhaps that
      observation works against the notion of a writng specifically produced
      for the whole church. What evidence is there that Paul expected his
      letters to be collected?
      As far as I know the idea of General or Catholic epistles cannot be
      traced to the first century. It seems to be a way of gathering together
      the fragments so that nothing may be lost. If they are first century
      documents, when did they reach something like general circulation? The
      bigger the gap perhaps the more difficult it is to think that they were
      written with universal intention-or so it seems to me. Perhaps this is
      an indication that our answers to so many detailed questions reveal
      factors that shape our responses to the bigger questions.
      Thanks for the ongoing discussion.
      JohnP
      Professor John Painter
      St Mark's National Theological Centre
      Charles Sturt University Canberra Campus
      15 Blackall Street
      Barton ACT 2600 Phone 61 (0)2 6273 1572
      Australia Fax 61 (0)2 6273 4067

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    • David Hunter
      Friends Thanks to all those who have rejuvenated the John discussion and list - the posts of the last couple of weeks have been very valuable for research
      Message 2 of 30 , Jun 8, 1999
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        Friends
        Thanks to all those who have rejuvenated the John discussion and list - the
        posts of the last couple of weeks have been very valuable for research
        students such as myself in that they make quality discussion highly
        accessible.

        With regard to Richard Bauckham's book, I found Francis Watson's article
        “Towards a Literal Reading of the Gospels.” (In *The Gospels for All
        Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences*., Ed. Richard Bauckham.
        Grand Rapids, Michigan/ Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 1998. pp. 195-217.)
        very interesting and relevant. I wondered if others have responded to it also?

        Briefly, my understanding of his point is as follows. Watson is arguing
        for a 'literal reading' against a 'theology of the Word' which he finds
        in Bultmann's writings on form criticism and Marxsen's redaction
        analysis of the Gospel of Mark. Specifically, he rejects a reading where
        the "the Gospels are primary sources for the early Christian community
        and only secondarily - in a manner that flies in the face of their own
        true concerns - sources for the historical Jesus" (pp. 206-207). Rather,
        Watson wants to argue for the Gospels as 'realistic narratives' (Frei),
        that is narratives that mean what they say and are not substitutionable
        depending on the reader's circumstance or community needs. The challenge
        is strong: "The substitution of the Word for the person, the spirit for
        the body, is a simple denial that the Word became flesh and has no place
        within theology or scholarship" (215).

        I wonder if the discussion touched on recently in the list. re. the
        place and historicity of the cleansing of the temple in 4G, and
        conversely the role of the raising of Lazarus (11:1-54) could focus this
        challenge of Watson's? I know also that others on the list have worked
        extensively with the *Sitz-im-Leben* concept of which Watson is
        critical.

        Watson certainly acknowledges that the Gospels are the "early Christian
        *reception* of the life and person of Jesus" and describes the "fourfold
        Gospel canon" as the "complex rendering of the received reality" (216).

        But my question would be, firstly - assuming that the event
        precipitating the passion in 4G is 'the raising of Lazarus' but is the
        'cleansing of the temple' in the Synoptic Gospels - if the placement of
        the raising of Lazarus account is an expression of the particular
        theology of the Fourth Gospel - how does this differ from the
        particular expression of the faith of the Johannine community?

        (Watson's main example of Marxsen's 'excess' is the assessment of the
        Galilee focus of Mark 3:7-8 as the physical location of the
        post-resurrection community and I can see that he may allow the
        theological geography of Mark but as a Christological statement ie
        distinguish between Markan theology and the theology of the community of
        Mark. Would this still be a 'literal reading'?)

        Secondly, - I'm not familiar with Watson's previous writings on the
        'literal meaning', but the 'raising of Lazarus' is most often
        interpreted in a referential rather than a 'literal' manner. Frank
        Moloney speaks of it as 'A Resurrection That Will Lead to Death' (*Signs
        and Shadows* Minneapolis: Fortress Press 1996 p. 154ff.). John Painter
        says that "a symbolic interpretation of the story is intended" because
        of the central 'egw eimi' saying in 11:25-26. (*Quest for the Messiah*
        Nashville: Abingdon 1993 p. 368).

        While one could say that these comments are Christological rather than
        about the Johannine community, again the text and its role on 4G is
        Johannine and different to the Synoptic Gospels. The term 'complex
        rendering' that Watson uses to the describe the fourfold Gospel
        tradition would seem to be more readily articulated with a 'theology of
        the Word'. The differences in the Gospel traditions as well as the
        'distance' between the Gospels and the "historical reality to which they
        refer" (Watson p.216) are somehow (and I acknowledge that this is not
        as straightforward as sometimes thought) expressions of the localised
        impact of the encounter with the 'Living Lord'.

        I'd appreciate any thoughts on this.

        David Hunter
        PhD Candidate
        St Mark's National Theological Centre
        Charles Sturt University,
        Canberra, Australia.


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      • Andrew Lincoln
        Many thanks to David for his interesting reflections on Watson s contribution to The Gospels for All Christians. I too found Watson s argument somewhat
        Message 3 of 30 , Jun 9, 1999
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          Many thanks to David for his interesting reflections on Watson's
          contribution to The Gospels for All Christians. I too found Watson's
          argument somewhat confused and confusing. The first part of it makes strong
          criticisms on theological grounds of form-critical, redaction- critical and
          community-oriented approaches to the gospels, but then Watson's own
          formulations in the last part of the essay
          appear to allow room for such concerns anyway. It is one thing to assert as
          Watson does that theological views have a bearing on literary and
          historical matters, but it is another to confuse these and I ended up
          wondering whether Watson was guilty of doing this in the bulk of the essay.
          So one might well want to argue that the Christian truth claim entails the
          unsubstitutional element of the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth
          in whom God acted uniquely forthe benefit of humankind, but there is a
          distinction between such a claim and the form in which the gospels make it.
          David said:

          >>Briefly, my understanding of his point is as follows. Watson is arguing
          >for a 'literal reading' against a 'theology of the Word' which he finds
          >in Bultmann's writings on form criticism and Marxsen's redaction
          >analysis of the Gospel of Mark. Specifically, he rejects a reading where
          >the "the Gospels are primary sources for the early Christian community
          >and only secondarily - in a manner that flies in the face of their own
          >true concerns - sources for the historical Jesus" (pp. 206-207). Rather,
          >Watson wants to argue for the Gospels as 'realistic narratives' (Frei),
          >that is narratives that mean what they say and are not substitutionable
          >depending on the reader's circumstance or community needs. The challenge
          >is strong: "The substitution of the Word for the person, the spirit for
          >the body, is a simple denial that the Word became flesh and has no place
          >within theology or scholarship" (215).

          The language of the first citation from Watson is to say the least not very
          clear. To say that the true concern of the gospels is to be sources for
          "the historical Jesus" appears to introduce a distinctly modern concern by
          focusing on such an entity in distinction from the Jesus Christ of the
          early church's faith. If he means to say the gospels are concerned with
          telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his life, death and resurrection,
          then this is somewhat different and would come closer to what Hans Frei
          meant by "realistic narrative." The gospels make their truth claims by
          means of this realistic narrative and so can be said to mean what they say.

          But for Frei this is quite different from the gospels being intended to be
          sources for the historical Jesus. He conceives of such narratives as both
          history-like and fiction-like and can say in his The Identity of Jesus
          Christ, p. 15, that they are "at once intensely serious and historical in
          intent and fictional in form." They are both history-like and fiction-like
          in that at various points and in varying degrees they depict the earthly
          Jesus in a way that conflates him with the risen Christ. But that is
          precisely what these narratives wish to convey - the identity of a figure
          who is at one and the same time the earthly Jesus and the risen Christ. So
          these Scriptural narratives are themselves sufficient - sufficient for the
          matter of referentiality, because they refer to this Jesus Christ. Faith in
          this Jesus Christ does not therefore need some systematic validation from
          an external source, such as historical criticism. That would be to make our
          notions of history a higher authority. But that does not mean that there is
          no relationship between faith and historical investigation at all. What
          Frei appears to argue is that faith in the Jesus Christ to whom the
          narratives witness remains determinative for Christian living but that
          faith can then make ad hoc use of modern historical criticism. Faith in
          fact needs only two assurances from such criticism - (i) that Christ's
          resurrection has not been historically disconfirmed (Identity, 151) and
          (ii) that a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who proclaimed the Kingdom of God's
          nearness, did exist and was finally executed (Identity, 51).

          For Frei the literal meaning of the gospels is the story they tell -
          fictive elements and all. It seems to me that the theological corollary of
          this is that it is these stories that are to be acknowledged as true. Their
          relationship to "the historical Jesus" and how far they have been shaped by
          particular communities and their interests and needs remains to be explored
          as part of the investigation of the mixture of history-like and
          fiction-like elements that constitute the stories.
          Frei would certainly not see in this emphasis on realistic narrative "the
          substitution of the Word for the person, the spirit for the body", and
          since his stance leaves room for other types of investigation of the
          gospels, I cannot see why Watson must insist that that is what they entail.
          He himself concedes that the gospels have an ideological stance and contain
          legendary material. It has to be a legitimate question what drives the
          particular ideological stance of any gospel story and what interests beyond
          the historical have shaped legendary elements.

          David relates his reflections to the place and historicity of the cleansing
          of the temple in 4G, and the role of the raising of Lazarus and asks:
          >
          >But my question would be, firstly - assuming that the event
          >precipitating the passion in 4G is 'the raising of Lazarus' but is the
          >'cleansing of the temple' in the Synoptic Gospels - if the placement of
          >the raising of Lazarus account is an expression of the particular
          >theology of the Fourth Gospel - how does this differ from the
          >particular expression of the faith of the Johannine community?
          >
          FWIW, I think someone like Frei would say that the literal meaning of these
          stories is that they identify the one who is the earthly Jesus and the
          risen Christ as the fulfilment/replacement of all that the Temple stood for
          and as the one who embodies and conveys eschatological life in the
          present. I agree these are the truth claims of the Evangelist (shaped by
          the faith experiences of his community?). Watson wants to stress that such
          claims are also universal claims - fine - but why exclude on principle
          investigation of the local setting from which they emerged and by which
          they are likely to have been shaped?

          Andrew Lincoln


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          Andrew T. Lincoln
          alincoln@...
          Wycliffe College
          University of Toronto
          5 Hoskin Avenue
          Toronto M5S 1H7
          Canada



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        • deanf4545
          I hope no one will object to my bringing up old (very old!) subject matter, but I am reading through the earliest posts and came across this quotation: ...
          Message 4 of 30 , Apr 18 12:59 PM
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            I hope no one will object to my bringing up old (very old!) subject matter, but I am reading through the earliest posts and came across this quotation:

            "... anybody proposing to undermine the distinctiveness of the
            Johannine community, must confront the late Raymond E. Brown's masterful reconstruction of that community's life, loves and struggles, in his Community of the Beloved Disciple>, all firmly grounded in the text of 4th Gospel and the joh. epistles."

            When I read the book, it struck me as very speculative. I'm wondering what I'm missing from the argument that is so persuasive. Perhaps a starting point would be to define what makes a distinct community. As I understand it, Brown argues that originall the Gospel contained a low-Christology, like the Synoptics, but that this was layered later on in response to theological developments experienced by the community (assumed to be itinerant). His main arguments appear to be:

            That 4G doesn't use the word 'church' or 'apostle', and that therefore the community is made up of individualists(pp. 13-14)

            That the community saw itself as distinct from the world

            The acceptance of the Gospel by Gnostic sects by the second century (15).

            Brown nonetheless acknowledges the speculative nature of other suggestions, such as a possible anti-sacramental or anti-authoritarian slant (16).

            Admittedly I read the book in a hurry, and perhaps there were more substantial arguments that I failed to make note of (Ehrman of course brings out some source critical reasons, such as the apparent added material between chapters 14 and 18).

            Brown's view is based on the assumption that the 4G tells the history of a community. But is it really necessary to conclude that John didn't just settle within the community in which Paul labored? In light of the relative unity among the orthodox churches of the second century (witnessed to by Irenaeus, who noted that one could go from one end of the empire to the other, east to west, north to south, and hear the same faith expounded), can we really believe there was an empire-wide coalescing, with apparently no record left to bear witness to it? Since there was no centralized hierarchy, I would expect the churches to slowly develop separately, into a myriad of sects, (much like the history of Protestantism). But instead I see a church that was quite tenacious in maintaining unity, in large part I think because of the strong aversion to innovation - but this requires, as Irenaeus points out, that the churches all received the same faith at the outset, when they were founded. This certainly does lead to other issues and problems, such as the low Christology of the Synoptics - this I readily admit. But historically I can't see any other explanation.
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